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This article is about the phonology of the Italian language. It deals with the phonology and phonetics of Standard Italian as well as with geographical variants.

Contents

Vowels

Vowels of Italian. From Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004:119)
  Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a

Notes:

  • In Italian there is no phonemic distinction between long and short vowels. However, vowels in stressed open syllables are long (except when word-final).
  • While Italian contrasts close-mid (/e o/) and open-mid (/ɛ ɔ/) vowels in stressed syllables, they are in complementary distribution when unstressed: before sonorants, [ɛ ɔ] are found and [e o] elsewhere.[1]
  • Unstressed /u/ as the last phoneme of a word is rare. Major exceptions are onomatopoeic terms (babau[2]); loanwords (guru[3]); and place or family names of Sardinian origin (Gennargentu,[4] Porcu[5]). Words in the last category are not strictly Italian words.
  • When the last phoneme of a word is an unstressed vowel and the first phoneme of the following word is any vowel, the former vowel tends to become non-syllabic. This phenomenon is called synalepha and should be taken in account when counting syllables e.g. in poetry.
  • In addition to monophthongs, Italian has both rising and falling diphthongs. The falling diphthongs of Italian end in non-syllabic [i̯] and [u̯].[6]

Consonants

This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
Consonants of Italian[7]
Bilabial Labio-
dental
Dental/
Alveolar
Post-
alveolar
Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive p b k ɡ
Affricate t̪s̪͡ d̪z̪͡ tʃ͡ dʒ͡
Fricative f v s z ʃ
Trill r
Lateral l ʎ
Approximant j w

Notes:

  • Between two vowels, or between a vowel and an approximant or lateral (/l/, /r/, /j/ or /w/), consonants can be both single or geminated. Geminated consonants shorten the preceding vowel (or block phonetic lengthening) and the first geminated element is unreleased. For example, /fato/ [ˈfaː.t̪o] ~ /fatto/ [ˈfat̪̚.t̪o]. However, /ɲɲ/, /ʃʃ/, /ʎʎ/, are always geminated word-internally.[8] Similarly, nasals, liquids, and sibilants are pronounced slightly longer before medial consonant clusters. [9]
  • /z/ is the only consonant that cannot be geminated.
  • The trill /r/ is sometimes reduced to a single vibration when single, but it remains potentially a trill, not a flap [ɾ].
  • Nasals assimilate to the point of articulation of whatever consonant they precede. For example, /nɡ/ is realized as [ŋɡ].
  • The distinction between /s/ and /z/ is neutralized before consonants and at the beginning of words: the former is used before voiceless consonants and before vowels at the beginning of words; the latter is used before voiced consonants. They can only contrast between two vowels within the same word: for example, /preˈsɛnto/[10] ('I foresee') vs /preˈzɛnto/[11] ('I present').

Even in Standard Italian, there are many words in which dictionaries now indicate that both pronunciations with /z/ and with /s/ are acceptable. Thus they have merged in many varieties of Italian: when between two vowels within the same word, it tends to always be pronounced [z] in Northern Italy, and [s] in Central and Southern Italy. A notable example is the word casa ('house'): in Northern-Central Italy it is pronounced [ˈkaza]; in Southern-Central Italy it's pronounced [ˈkaːsa].

Phonotactics

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Onset

Italian allows up to three consonants in syllable-initial position, though there are limitations:[12]

CC

  • /s/ + any voiceless plosive or /f/. E.g. spavento ('fright')
  • /z/ + any voiced plosive, /v/, /d͡ʒ/, /m/, /n/, /l/, or /r/. E.g. srotolare ('unroll')
  • /f/ or any plosive + /r/. E.g. frana ('landslide')
  • /f/, /v/, or any plosive + /l/. E.g. platano ('plane tree')
  • In words of foreign (mostly Greek) origin which are only partially assimilated, other combinations such as /pn/ (e.g. pneumatico), /mn/ (e.g. mnemonico), /tm/ (e.g. tmesi), and /ps/ (e.g. pseudo-) occur, though in more casual speech these may be /nn/, /nn/, /mm/, and /ss/ respectively.

CCC

  • /s/ + plosive or /f/ + /r/. E.g. spregiare ('to despise')
  • /s/ + /p/ or /k/ + /l/. E.g. sclerosi ('sclerosis')

Nucleus

The syllable nucleus is the only mandatory part of a syllable (for instance, a is a word) and can only be a vowel or a diphthong. The diphthongs /ii̯/ and /uu̯/ are not acceptable.

Coda

A coda is only permissible in case of monophthong nuclei, and can be one of:

  • /r/. E.g. per ('for'), parte ('part')
  • /l/. E.g. al ('to the'), alto ('high')
  • /n/. E.g. con ('with'), conto ('count'), which undergoes assimilation if a consonantal onset follows, e.g un poco [umˈpɔko] ('a little')
  • an occlusive usually creating gemination with the following syllable onset. E.g. tutto ('everything')

Sandhi

Word-initial consonants are geminated after certain vowel-final words in the same prosodic unit. The words that trigger this include unstressed some proclitic particles, paroxytone prepositions, monosyllabic words, and oxytonic polysyllabic words. [13] For example, casa ('house') is pronounced [ˈkaːsa] but a casa ('homeward') is pronounced [ak̚ˈkaːsa]. This is not a purely phonological process, as the la in la casa ('the house') does not trigger this gemination: [la ˈkaːsa].

Regional variation

The above IPA symbols and description refer to standard Italian, based on a somewhat idealized version of the Tuscan-derived national language. As is common in many cultures, this single version of the language was pushed as neutral, proper, and eventually superior, leading to some stigmatization of varying accents. Television news anchors and other high-profile figures had to put aside their regional Italian when in the public sphere. However, in more recent years the enforcement of this standard has fallen out of favor in Italy, and news reporters, actors, and the like are now more free to deliver their words in their native regional variety of Italian, which appeals to the Italian population's range of linguistic diversity. Though it is still technically the standard, the loosened restrictions have led to Tuscan being seen for what it is, just one dialect among many with its own regional peculiarities and qualities, many of which are shared with Umbria, Southern Marche and Northern Lazio:

  • In Tuscany, voiceless stops become fricatives between vowels.[14] That is, /p t k/[ɸ θ x]: e.g. capo ('head') [ˈkaːɸo]. In a much more widespread area of Central Italy, postalveolar affricates are deaffricated when intervocalic so that in Cina ('in China') is pronounced [in tʃiːna] but la Cina ('the China') is [laʃiːna].[15] Since /ʃ/ surfaces as long post-vocalically, this can produce minimal pairs distinguished only by length of the word-initial consonant: [laʃenaːta] la cenata vs. [laʃʃenaːta] la scenata.
  • In nonstandard varieties of Central and Southern Italian, some stops at the end of a syllable completely assimilate to the following consonant. For example, a Venetian might say tecnica as [ˈtɛknika] in violation of normal Italian consonant contact restrictions, while a Florentine would likely pronounce tecnica as [ˈtɛnniha], a Roman on a range from [ˈtɛnnika] to [ˈtɛnniɡa]. Similarly, although the cluster /kt/ has developed historically as /tt/ through assimilation, a learned word such as ictus will be pronounced [ittus] by some, [iktus] by others.
  • In popular (non-Tuscan) Central and Southern Italian speech, /b/ and /dʒ/ tend to always be geminated ([bb] and [ddʒ]) when between two vowels, or a vowel and a sonorant (/j/, /w/, /l/, or /r/). Sometimes this is also used in written language, e.g. writing robba instead of roba ("stuff" or "property"), to suggest a regional accent, though this spelling is considered incorrect. In Tuscany intervocalic (non geminated) /dʒ/ is realized as [ʒ] (whereas intervocalic [non geminated] /tʃ/ is realized as [ʃ] as in the rest of Centro-Southern Italy).

Sample texts

From the Bible, Luke 2, 1-7 (for an English version click here)

You can listen to a rendition of this text as recorded by an Italian native speaker from Milan.

2:1 In quei giorni, un decreto di Cesare Augusto ordinava che si facesse un censimento di tutta la terra.
2 Questo primo censimento fu fatto quando Quirino era governatore della Siria.
3 Tutti andavano a farsi registrare, ciascuno nella propria città.
4 Anche Giuseppe, che era della casa e della famiglia di Davide, dalla città di Nazaret e dalla Galilea si recò in Giudea nella città di Davide, chiamata Betlemme,
5 per farsi registrare insieme a Maria, sua sposa, che era incinta.
6 Proprio mentre si trovavano lì, venne il tempo per lei di partorire.
7 Mise al mondo il suo primogenito, lo avvolse in fasce e lo depose in una mangiatoia, poiché non c'era posto per loro nella locanda.

Standard pronunciation (the velar [ŋ] and the long vowels are allophones of /n/ and the short vowels but are shown here for clarity):

2:1[iŋ kwei ˈdʒorni un deˈkreːto di ˈtʃeːzare auˈɡuːsto ordiˈnaːva ke ssi faˈtʃesse un tʃensiˈmento di ˈtutta la ˈtɛrra
2 ˈkwesto ˈpriːmo tʃensiˈmento fu fˈfatto ˈkwando kwiˈriːno ˈɛːra ɡovernaˈtoːre ˈdella ˈsiːrja.
3 ˈtutti anˈdaːvano a fˈfarsi redʒisˈtraːre tʃasˈkuːno ˈnella ˈprɔːprja tʃitˈta
4 ˈaŋke dʒuˈzɛppe ke ˈɛːra ˈdella ˈkaːsa e dˈdella faˈmiʎʎa di ˈdaːvide ˈdalla tʃitˈta ddi ˈnaddzaret e dˈdalla ɡaliˈlɛːa si reˈkɔ in dʒuˈdɛːa ˈnella tʃitˈta ddi ˈdaːvide, kjaˈmaːta beˈtlɛmme
5 per ˈfarsi redʒisˈtraːre inˈsjɛːme a mmaˈriːa ˈsuːa ˈspɔːza, ke ˈɛːra inˈtʃinta
6 ˈprɔːprjo ˈmentre si troˈvaːvano li ˈvenne il ˈtɛmpo per lɛːi di partoˈriːre
7 ˈmiːze al ˈmondo il suːo primoˈdʒɛːnito, lo avˈvɔlse in ˈfaʃʃe e llo deˈpoːse in ˈuːna mandʒaˈtoːja poiˈke non ˈtʃɛːra ˈposto per ˈloːro ˈnella loˈkanda]

See also

References

Bibliography

  • Hall, Robert A. Jr. (1944), "Italian phonemes and orthography", Italica 21 (2): 72–82, doi:10.2307/475860  
  • Rogers, Derek; d'Arcangeli, Luciana (2004), "Italian", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34 (1): 117–121, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001628  

External links


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