Help:IPA for Italian
See Italian phonology for a more thorough overview of the sounds of Italian.
The vowels e and o
Both the vowels of Italian alphabet "e" and "o" can be pronounced in two distinct ways, as it occurs in German language and other languages. They're usually referred to as open "e" (or open "o") and closed "e" (or closed "o"). The "e" vowel can be pronounced either as /ɛ/ (open "e") or /e/ (closed "e"), while the "o" vowel can be pronounced either as /ɔ/ (open "o") or /o/ (closed "o").
The main rule for correct pronunciation is that unstressed vowels "e" and "o" are always closed (which means that they are always pronounced as /e/ and /o/), while stressed vowels can be either open or closed.. This implies that the pronunciation of unstressed "e" and "o" can be easily inferred from the word structure, but this is not true of stressed "e" and "o".
In order to find out how the stressed vowels "e" and "o" are pronounced, a dictionary of Italian has to be consulted. In Italian dictionaries, open stressed vowels are usually referred to as "è" (/ɛ/) and "ò" (/ɔ/) , while closed stressed vowels are usually referred to as "é" /e/ and "ó" /o/. These diacritics are only used in dictionaries for pronunciation and are never used in written Italian, except for the graphical accent of end-stressed words ("à","è", "é" and "ò" in words such as "carità").
The above pronunciation rules refer to standard Italian. The pronunciaton of regional variants usually differs from the outlined rules and the dictionary information.
The vowels a, u, i
The remaining vowels are always pronounced in the same way, i.e. "a" is always pronounced as /a/, "u" is always pronounced as /u/ and "i" is always pronounced as /i/. The sound /ɪ/ is practically absent in Italian language (it may occur sometimes in the dipthongs "ai", "oi" and so on)
Italian consonants are mostly pronounced in a unique way, except for the following consonant clusters:
- [sc + a,o,u,] -> /sk/
- [sc + e,i] -> /ʃ/
- [sch + i,e] -> /sk/
- [c + a,o,u] -> /k/
- [c + e,i] -> /tʃ/
- [ch + e,i] -> /k/
- [g + a,o,u] -> /g/
- [g + i,e] -> /dʒ/
- [gh + e,i]: -> /g/
- [gn] -> /ɲ/
- [gl + i] -> either /ʎ/ (e.g. gli) or /gl/ (e.g. glifo)
- [gl +a,e,o,u] -> /gl/ (e.g. glutei)
The consonants "s" and "z" can be pronounced in two distinct ways and there's no general rule for them (A good rule for "s", useful to foreign learners, is outlined in Serianni's grammar). The consonant "s" might be pronounced either as /s/ (hard or strong "s") or /z/ (soft "s"). Similarly, the consonant "z" might be pronounced either as /ts/ (hard or strong "z") or /dz/ (soft or smooth "z"). For its correct pronunciation, a word should always be looked up in a good Italian dictionary, where it's usually indicated whether the above two consonants are hard or soft. Soft "s" is usually referred to as "ṡ" while hard "s" is referred to as normal "s". Similarly, soft "z" is usually referred to as "ż", while hard "z" is referred to as normal "z", e.g. :
- caṡo /'kazo/
- cosa /'kosa/
The remaining Italian consonants are all pronounced in a unique way, even though gemination may occur. Despite their being unique, the pronunciation of Italian consonants usually differs to a certain extent from their respective English counterparts. English voiceless consonants "t", "p" and "k" are slightly more aspirated when they occur before a vowel (/th/ and /dh/), so aspiration should drop when English sounds are adapted to Italian.
Gemination occurs quite often in Italian language. Normal gemination, i.e. gemination within a word is different from syntactic gemination, which occurs between two words, even though there's no phonetic distinction between them. In Italian, normal gemination is clearly represented by doubling the respective consonant. So double consonants (such as mm, nn, cc, dd and so on) are geminate, while single consonants (such as "b" in abito or "s" in schiena) aren't geminate. The single consonant "z" is the only consonant (except for some consonant clusters, as shown in the next paragraph) which may not be geminate without being doubled, but the two consonants "zz" are always geminate. Geminate consonants 'zz' might be either hard (/ts:/) or soft (/dz:/). Similarly, the single consonant 'z' might be either hard (/ts/ or /ts:/) or soft (/dz/ or /dz:/). Consider the following two examples:
- azione /ats:i'one/
- azzerare /adz:e'rare/
Similarly to "z", the consonant clusters [sc + e,i] (/ʃ/), [gn] (/ɲ/) and [gl + e,i] (only when the sound /ʎ/ occurs) also exhibit gemination without consonant doubling. Gemination occurs for the above clusters when they come right after a vowel. Gemination occurs even between two words (syntactic gemination). Consider the following examples:
- ascia /'aʃ:ia/
- sciare /ʃi'are/
- a sciare /aʃ:i'are/
The consonant cluster [gl + e,i] with /gl/ sound always exhibits consonant doubling when gemination occurs:
- agglutinare /ag:luti'nare/
The consonants c/ch and g/gh also exhibit consonant doubling when gemination occurs. the consonant "c" becomes "cc" (it may represent either /tʃ:/ or /k:/ depending on the following vowel). Similarly, the consonant "g" becomes "gg" (it may represent either /dʒ:/ or /g:/ depending on the following vowel). The consonant clusters "cch" and "ggh" always represent /k:/ and /g:/.
- After end-stressed words, such as è, già, sanità, perché.
- After the following words: a, che, chi, come, da, do, dove, e, fa, fo, fra, fu, gru, ha, ho, ma, me, mo', no, o, Po, qua, qualche, qui, re, sa, se, so, sopra, sta, sto, su, te, tra, tre, tu, va, vo.
Consider the following examples:
- tutti e tre ['tut:i e't:re]
- a casa [a'k:asa]
- Che modi! [ke'm:ɔdi]
Syntactic gemination is extremely rare under different circumstances. After the preposition "di", it never occurs except for the phrase "di Dio" [di"d:io].
- If the consonants are doubled between vowels, they are geminated. This may also happen between sonorants (genuinely, all consonants can be geminated except for [z]). In IPA, gemination can be represented either by doubling the consonant: fatto [ˈfatto], mezzo [ˈmɛddzo]; or by the length marker ‹ ː ›. Notice that syntactic gemination also occurs in Italian (e.g. va via [vavˈvi.a]).
- ⟨z⟩ represents both [ts] and [dz]. In order to determine which, consult a dictionary.
- If the two characters ⟨ɡ⟩ and ⟨⟩ do not match and if the first looks like a ⟨γ⟩, then you have an issue with your default font. See Rendering issues.
- /ʎ/, /ɲ/ and /ʃ/ are always geminated word-internally.
- The nasals always assimilate their place of articulation to that of the following consonant. Thus, the n in /nɡ/, /nk/ is a velar [ŋ], the realization before /v/ or /f/ is a labiodental [ɱ] (though this is transcribed here as [m]), and only [m] is ever found before /p/ or /b/.
- Most times [r] is pretty short, and is pronounced as a single trill.
- Italian contrasts seven monophthongs in stressed syllables. Open-mid vowels [ɛ ɔ] can only appear when the syllable is stressed (e.g. coperto [koˈpɛrto]), close-mid vowels [e o] are found elsewhere (e.g. Boccaccio [bokˈkattʃo], amore [aˈmoːre]). Open and close vowels [a i u] stay unchanged in unstressed syllables, though word-final unstressed [i] may become an approximant [j] before vowels in a process known as synalepha (syllable merging), e.g. pari età [ˌparjeˈta*].
- Stressed vowels are long when in a non-final open syllable: fato [ˈfaːto] ~ fatto [ˈfatto].
- Berloco F. (2014). The Big Book of Italian Verbs: 600 Fullly Conjugated Verbs in All Tenses with IPA Transcription. LENGU. ISBN 978-1502722928.
- Serianni L. (2006). Grammatica italiana. UTET Università. ISBN 978-8860080578.
- (Italian) Dizionario italiano multimediale e multilingue d'ortografia e di pronunzia (not based on IPA)
- (Italian) Dizionario di pronuncia italiana online by Luciano Canepari (based on IPA)