Caesar Pronunciation?

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
When I was in school, I was aware of three different forms of pronouncing Latin:
1) Roman Catholic church Latin (still used in my youth): SEE-sar
2) Jesuit Latin taught in American schools: Kae-sar .... by the same token, Cicero would technically be KEE-keh-roh
3) Slavic school Latin: TSEE-zahr .... CIcero -> TSIH-tsih-roh
--- I suspect there are many more variations.

I think the lesson here is that the academically preserved forms of Latin have evolved away from the language spoken during the empire, flavored by local language. Just because Latin is the official "legal" language of the RC Church, doesn't mean they pronounce it correctly (it's actually a pretty good idea, since the vocabulary & grammar don't change, things written in the 11th century mean exactly the same thing now). The "ts" sound is common in Slavic languages that don't have English "th" ... and appears in words like "tsar" (caesar derivative). Of course the German "kaiser", is also a Caesar derivative.

This is Greek, but you can see transliteration to "C":
Cleopatra has a hard "C" ... the Greek is actually Kleopatra. Hard "C" works.
Her younger sister was Berenike ... hard "K", Bere-NEE-kay ... but it's anglicized to Berenice (as wrong as could be)
The queen of Kush was the Kandake (hard "K") ... KAN-dah-kay... but is anglicized to Candace (even more wrong)

SOoooooooo .... I lean towards a hard "C" ... for Caesar ... technically, but I pronounce it like everyone else to avoid stares.
Yeah, I learned Jesuit Latin, but I'm kind of caught up in that K->C business ... even though Caesar has always been spelled with a "C".
Since Latin has a "K", maybe the slavs are closer with "ts" .... dunno.

His name is "Julius", right? Latin didn't have a "J". It's "Iulius" ... carved all over the place. Another example of modern changes.
People knew when the I was representing J sound and when it was an "i" sound. Like we know when "y" is used, whether it is a consonant as in "yard" or a vowel sound as "city". Originally, the J was just a fancy way of making an "I", it didn't become its own letters until 17th century. "W" was also.a relatively recent letter added to the alphabet, since Latin didn't really use the "w" sound.

Candace is a good example of an English word. I can't think of an English word that starts with "C" that isn't a hard "C".
"C" separating a vowel from another vowel which makes it long ("ace") is a soft "C".
City, civilian, cinema, cinder all have a soft c sound, and are English words, although originally derived from Latin or Greek

You could make an argument for KEY-sar or KAY-sar. <--- I don't think ANYONE says this.
Rather like Kaiser, which was derived from Caesar.

My recommendation? Use the one that doesn't make you look like a goof to your friends. The dictator is long past caring.
Italian might have a "ch" ... I'm unaware of one in Latin. *I* am unware.
The sound of "C" changed in Italian from Latin, so you pronounce cello like "chello" .Sounds of letters change over time, and in English, a lot of sounds no longer are prounced, like the "k" in knight. They used to be.

I just did a quick search for Latin male names starting with "K".


I've never seen them spelled that way ... Germanized? Maybe there's a rule about only "C" starting a name instead of "K"?
Latin inherited their alphabet from the Estruscans, which had 3 "k" like sounds and had 3 separate letters, C, Q, K. The Romans preferred C, and occasionally used Q, but kept K mostly out of tradition.

"K, k, was used in the oldest period of the language as a separate character for the sound k, while C was used for the sound g. In course of time the character C came to be used also for the k sound, and, after the introduction of the character G, for that alone, and K disappeared almost entirely from the Latin orthography, except at the beginning of a few words, for each of which, also, the letter K itself was in common use as an abbreviation; thus, Kæso (or Cæso), Kalendæ (less correctly Calendæ), sometimes Karthago (or Kar.; v. Carthago); "and in special connections, Kalumnia, Kaput (for Calumnia and Caput, e. g. k. k. = calumniae causā in jurid. lang.): nam k quidem in nullis verbis utendum puto, nisi quae significat, etiam ut sola ponatur", Quint. 1, 7, 10; cf. id. 1, 4, 9.—Some grammarians, indeed, as early as Quintilian's time, thought it proper always to write K for initial C before a, Quint. 1, 7, 10.—Besides the above-mentioned abbreviations, the K is also found in KA. for capitalis, KK. for castrorum, K. S. for carus suis. "
Why is the letter K a rare letter?

So ... under no interpretation is SEE-zar correct. It's either Key/Kay-sar or Gey/Gay-sar. .... note the mention of Caeso as Kaeso.
As I said the Etruscans had 3 letters for a K like sound, but the Romans only had one "k" sound, but kept the other letters mostly out of tradirion when they borrowed the alphabet. The sound of C changed in Latin and its daughter languages, so the became soft in from of some vowels (like civic) but remained hard in from of others (like cat, category).

The Norman French who conquered England insisted on spelling English the same way they were used to, and used the C for words, but since English is a different language, irt didn't always follow French rules for when the C was hard - like "kit", "keg". In French, you wouldn't have a hard "k" sound front of thoses vowels, so they were forced to use a K when you had a hard "k" sound when the C would normally be soft.

Since modern Church Latin pronounces the C as soft, that is likely why English pronounces Caesar with soft C. It may have been a hard K sound in ancient Latin, but since when I ask for a Caesar salad, I am not speaking ancient Latin, it does not matter.

English often doesn't bother to change the spelling of words it borrows, even when it means the spelling doesn't reflect the way the word is prounnced. Even though the "e" is normally silent at the end of words, since "applique" and "cafe" were borrowed, the e is pronounced. (Some rare spelling sticklers insist on putting an accent over the e in applique, but most don't bother.)
Mar 2017
Wow! Seven pages on this!? Properly pronounced, that is in the time of any of the Caesars, it would be C- (as in k) ae- (as in ai-sle) ar. The -r is trilled of briefly rolled. As has been mentioned;
C was always pronounced as in can
-ae- is a diphthong pronounced like ai- in aisle or i- in iphone
r was trilled briefly for one, longer for two as in carrhae

Another one that is never pronounced correctly is Julius, Julia, Julian, etc.. anything Ju-
Ju- is actually iu-, which is i- functioning as a consonant. Ergo, Julius Caesar would have been pronounced; Yulius Kaisar.
THANKS! I never heard of the trill. They didn't teach that to me ... probably, because there's no trill in American English (my mom was from England, and she trilled some).

Yulius Kaisar-r