April 25, 2005

Habemus or abemus?

I only just noticed, when NPR played back a selection of "voices of the week" this morning, that what Cardinal Estevez actually said as he announced the choice of Cardinal Ratzinger was (in phonetic transcription) [a'bemus 'papam]. No [h] on the first word. According to the St. Louis Review, the weekly newspaper of the archdiocese of St. Louis, "At 6:40 p.m., Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, the senior cardinal in the order of deacons, appeared at the basilica balcony and intoned to the crowd in Latin: "Dear brothers and sisters, I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope." Well, I'm sure it was supposed to be in Latin, but unless I am much mistaken, Latin would have had that [h]. Hence the spelling. Of course, I am not philologist enough to know the exact century when the [h] disappeared (as it certainly did: there is no [h] in Spanish or French or Italian, and I can't name any modern Romance language that has preserved it; philologist acquaintances, please correct me if I'm wrong), so the Cardinal could perhaps be defended on the grounds that he using the Latin of some later period when the [h] as already gone. But my money would be on the simpler hypothesis that he speaks Latin with a Chilean Spanish accent you could cut with a knife.

[Added later: Actually, just about everything in this post is wrong except that Cardinal Estevez may indeed come from Chile and may have spoken at roughly twenty to seven. Many philologist acquaintances and even total strangers have rebuked me on Latin pronunciation issues, some very sternly indeed. Click here awful details of my rank ignorance. It's going to be a long time before I get invited to any classics parties or Catholic church events, that's for damn sure.]

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at April 25, 2005 12:16 AM