Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to learn Italian 6 - Italian vowels

The pronounciation of the Italian consonants should not be difficult for
English-speakers, but most vowels have a different sound. There are two
important issues to be kept well in mind:

  • In Italian, the pronounciation of the vowels does not change according to the
    word (only e and o have "wide" and "narrow" sounds, but the difference is not so great),
    whereas for instance an English "e" is pronounced in different ways (leavehen,break).

    As a general rule, the sound of Italian vowels is not affected by other letters. There is only one exception, already discussed in the previous
    paragraph 1.2: when i belongs to particular
    clusters, its sound is not heard.

  • The Italian vowels are always pronounced clipped, i.e. with a very short
    duration (sound length), whereas in English they are often held, so to obtain
    a "long" sound, particularly when they are at the end of a word. For example,
    the English undergo is pronounced as if the word was spelt undergoe,
    i.e. with a long duration, although the word ends with o alone.

    In Italian, this o would sound shorter, as if the word was spelt undergoh,
    (without pronouncing the h), and the great majority of Italian words ends
    in a similar way, i.e. with a vowel.

    Vowels are the greatest obstacle in attempting to mimic the Italian sound
    by using syllables pronounced in the English way; there is no other way to
    obtain clipped vowels than to add an "h" after each of them (ah, eh, oh, etc.)
    This phonetic spelling looks a little awkward, for instance
    libreria (for bookshop) looks like "lyhbrehryhah"; but
    this will no longer be necessary once the student has fully learned
    the basic pronounciation rules. Practice hard your vowels, so to get
    rid of these funny spellings very soon!

    In these early chapters, a phonetic spelling (i.e. the English spelling of the
    word's actual sound), between quotation marks and in italics style,
    has been added to each Italian word, as a further help for the beginner; at
    more advanced stages, it will be abandoned, assuming that the student has
    gradually become confident with the pronounciation rules.

    The introduction paragraph (see
    ) shows a few examples, and explains why I preferred to use this
    method rather than the international phonetic system.

    Here are some further notes about the phonetic spelling you'll find in these pages:

    • The sound of the Italian vowel a is obtained by spelling it
      "..ah..", always sounding
      as in bath,
      but obviously clipped, i.e. much shorter than in English.
    • The Italian e is spelt "..eh..": it may sound as letter
      e in bet,
      or as letter a in may

      not pronouncing the y.
    • The Italian i is spelt "..yh.." or "..y..", always
      sounding as the letter y in gym;
    • The Italian o is spelt "..oh..", sometimes sounding as
      letter o in box, and
      sometimes as in coal,
      though with a shorter sound than in English.
    • The Italian u is spelt "..w..", always sounding
      as letter w in want.
    • The Italian c is spelt "..k.." when its sound is "strong" (guttural),
      as in cardcome.

      The "soft" (palatal) sound, like the English cluster ch in
      church or
      cheese, is spelt "..ch.."
      (in reading the phonetic spelling remember not to omit the sound of h!).
    • In a similar way, the Italian g is spelt "..g..",
      when its sound is "strong" (guttural), as in goal,
      its "soft" (palatal) sound, like an English j, is
      spelt "..j..", sounding like jam or

    • The Italian cluster sc is spelt "..sh.." when the sound
      matches the English cluster sh in
      shade or fish (again, do not omit the sound of h in this case!).
    • The Italian gn sound is spelt using a Spanish "..ñ..",
      as señor.
    • For the Italian cluster gl another Spanish group has been used,

      "..ll.." (always with a reminder note). In the GRAMMAR AND
       section of this website, this phonetic spelling has been preferred,
      because it is the closest to the Italian pronounciation.

      Instead, in the USEFUL EXPRESSIONS sections I preferred to
      use its quasi-equivalent English ...lly... spelling,
      because the readers whose only purpose is that to use the sentences on a holiday,
      would find this spelling easier to understand, without having to learn the language
      in depth.
    • The sound of the Italian r is always "rolled": there is no graphic way
      for showing this, so simply keep in mind the pronounciation of this letter.

      ACCENT (or STRESS)

      Accent will be the subject of paragraph 1.5, but I would like to introduce in advance that in the phonetic (English sound) spelling, the syllable that carries the stress is shown in bold letters: these syllables carry the stress in pronouncing the relevant word.

      For example:
      animale (animal) is pronounced "ahnyhmahleh" (stress on the syllable ma)
      tavolo (table) is pronounced "tahvohloh" (stress on the first syllableta)
      perché (why, because) is pronounced "pehrkeh" (stress on the last syllable che)

      So now, according to the pronounciation table and to the above-mentioned notes,
      you should be able to pronounce correctly any Italian sound.

      Take a test with the following words:





      luogo"lwohgoh"place, location
      facile"fahchyleh"(English "ch")easy
      centro"chentroh"(English "ch")center, middle
      alzare"ahltsahreh"to lift, to raise
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