Tuscan gorgia

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The Tuscan gorgia (Italian: Gorgia toscana [ˈɡɔrdʒa toˈskaːna], "Tuscan throat") is a phonetic phenomenon characteristic of the Tuscan dialects, in Tuscany, Italy, especially the central ones, with Florence traditionally viewed as the center.


The gorgia affects the voiceless stops /k/ /t/ and /p/, which are pronounced as fricatives in post-vocalic position (when not blocked by the competing phenomenon of syntactic doubling):

  • /k/[h]
  • /t/[θ]
  • /p/[ɸ]

An example: the word identificare (to identify) /identifiˈkare/ is pronounced by a Tuscan speaker as [ˌidentifiˈhaːre], not as [ˌidentifiˈkaːre], as standard Italian phonology would require. The rule is sensitive to pause, but not word boundary, so that /la kasa/ (the house) is realized as [laˈhaːsa].

(In some areas the voiced counterparts /ɡ d b/ can also appear as fricative approximants [ɣ ð β], especially in fast or unguarded speech. This, however, appears more widespread elsewhere in the Mediterranean, having become standard in Spanish and Greek.)

In a stressed syllable, /k t p/, preceded by another stop, can occasionally be realized as true aspirates [kʰ tʰ pʰ], especially if the stop is the same, for example [apˈpʰuːnto] (appunto, note), [akˈkʰaːsa] (a casa, at home, with phonosyntactic strengthening due to the preposition).

Geographical distribution[edit]

Establishing a hierarchy of weakening within the class /k t p/ is not an easy task. Recent studies have called into question the traditional view that mutation of /t/ and /p/ is less widespread geographically than /k/[h], and in areas where the rule is not categorical, /p/ is often more likely to weaken than /k/ or /t/. On the other hand, fast-speech deletion [the «zero phone»] affects /k/ first and foremost wherever it occurs, while /t/ can reduce to [h], especially in high-frequency items such as participles (e.g. [anˈdaːho] andato). Fricativization of /k/ is by far the most perceptually salient of the three, however, and amongst Italians it has thus become a stereotype (geo- and sociolinguistic marker) of Tuscan dialects.

The phenomenon is more evident and finds its irradiation point in the city of Florence. From this point, the gorgia spreads its influence along the entire Arno valley, losing strength nearer the coast. On the coast the gorgia cannot already change /p/ and weakly changes /t/. The weakening of /k/ is a linguistic continuum in the entire Arno valley, in the cities of Prato, Pistoia, Montecatini Terme, Lucca, Pisa, Livorno. In the northwest it is present to some extent in Versilia, and in the east extends over the Pratomagno to include Bibbiena and outlying areas, where /k t p/ are all affected, although variably, both fully occlusive [k], [t], [p] and "lenited" (lax, unvoiced) phones the major alternates. The Apennines are the northern border of the phenomenon, and while a definite southern border has not been established, it is present in Siena and further south, through at least San Quirico d'Orcia. In far southern Tuscany it gives way to the lenition (laxing) typical of northern and coastal Lazio.


The Tuscan gorgia arose perhaps as late as the Middle Ages, as a natural phonetic phenomenon, much like the consonant voicing that affected Northern Italian dialects and the rest of Western Romance (now phonemicized, e.g. /amika/ 'friend, f.' > /amiɡa/), but remained allophonic in Tuscany, as laxing or voicing generally does elsewhere in Central Italy and in Corsica.

Although it was once hypothesized that the gorgia phenomena are the continuation of similar features in the language that pre-dated Romanization of the area, Etruscan, that view is no longer held by most specialists. Instead, it is increasingly accepted as being a local form of the same consonant weakening that affects other speech in Central Italy, and extends far beyond, to Western Romance. Support for this hypothesis can be found in several facts:

  • The phonetic details of Etruscan are unknown, thus it is impossible to identify their continuance.
  • There is no mention of the phenomenon until the 16th century, and no trace in older writing (since the gorgia is a phonetic phenomenon, not phonemic, its appearance in writing might not be expected, but it does appear in writing in the 19th century).
  • The gorgia is less evident in Lucca and does not exist in far Southern Tuscany, nor in Lazio, where Etruscan settlement was quite concentrated.
  • Sociolinguistic studies in Eastern Tuscany (e.g. Cravens and Giannelli 1995, Pacini 1998) show that the gorgia competes with traditional laxing in exactly the same post-vocalic position, suggesting that the two results are phonetically different resolutions of the same phonological rule.
  • The gorgia shows all the characteristics of a naturally-developed allophonic rule in its alternations with full plosives ([ˈkaːsa] 'house', [la ˈhaːsa] 'the house', [trekˈkaːse] '3 houses').
  • Fricativization of /k t p/ is not uncommon in the languages of the world. Similar processes have happened in e.g. Proto-Germanic (which is why in Germanic languages there are words such as father, horn, tooth as opposed to Italian padre, corno, dente - see Grimm's Law), and during the development of the Hungarian language. A similar phenomenon is also observed in the Tamil language.


  • Agostiniani, Luciano & Luciano Giannelli. 1983. Fonologia etrusca, fonetica toscana: Il problema del sostrato. Firenze: Olschki.
  • Cravens, Thomas D. & Luciano Giannelli. 1995. Relative Salience of Gender and Class in a Situation of Multiple Competing Norms. Language Variation and Change 7:261-285.
  • Giannelli, Luciano. 2000. Toscana. Profilo dei dialetti italiani, 9. Pisa: Pacini.
  • Hall, Robert A. (1949). "A Note on "Gorgia Toscana"". Italica 26 (1): 64–71. doi:10.2307/476061. 
  • Hall, Robert A. (1956). "Ancora la "Gorgia Toscana"". Italica 33 (4): 291–294. doi:10.2307/476973. 
  • Merlo, Clemente (1950). "Gorgia Toscana E Sostrato Etrusco". Italica 27 (3): 253–255. doi:10.2307/476321. 
  • Merlo, Clemente (1953). "Ancora della Gorgia Toscana". Italica 30 (3): 167. doi:10.2307/477242. 
  • Pacini, Beatrice. 1998. Il processo di cambiamento dell'indebolimento consonantico a Cortona: studio sociolinguistico. Rivista italiana di dialettologia 22:15-57.
  • Politzer, Robert L. (1951). "Another Note on "Gorgia Toscana"". Italica 28 (3): 197–201. doi:10.2307/476424. 

See also[edit]