Saturday 6 November 2010

Words, words, words...

In my blog for 19th June 2010 I discussed the Italian pronunciation of the term zoo and I said that many Italian native speakers pronounce it either ˈdzɔo or dzɔ.
When this week I asked my Italian EFL students how they pronounced it, some of them answered that they thought zoo could only be pronounced in one way - I don't know which of the two variants above, though. Even when I pointed out to them that there are people in Italy who use different pronunciations for the same word, some of them went so far as to say that that wasn't possible. Italian is essentially a phonetic language, so each word is pronounced the way it is written, they retorted.
Of course, we know that it is not always so, especially with words that have been borrowed into Italian from other languages, e.g. English.
According to the Dizionario Etimologico della Lingua Italiana (Zanichelli, 1999) by Manlio Cortelazzo and Paolo Zolli, the term zoo has come into Italian from the English expression zoo(logical Gardens), and was adopted by the French about 1931, at a time when they were already using zoologiste (first attested in French in 1760). So, the fact that most of my students were not aware of a pronunciation variant in zoo could well be because this term has been in the language for almost a century now and people do not notice - or criticise - speakers when they say for example dzɔ, which is not the pronunciation considered as correct by the majority of dictionaries in Italy. Also, the two forms, dzɔ and ˈdzɔo, sound quite similar to Italian ears and so it goes without saying that most people don't notice any difference.

Another word which a great deal of Italians seem to be using today is stage, meaning 'work experience, internship'. Many Italians pronounce it steidʒ, thinking that the term is derived from the English word stage meaning 'the raised area in a theatre which actors or singers stand on when they perform' - I don't know why they make this kind of connection! As a matter of fact - purists say - stage comes from the French staʒ and so that's how it should be pronounced.
...But, as my readers will know, when it comes to pronunciation, there is no right or wrong: preference is what should be taken into account. So whether it's staʒ or steidʒ, I personally don't care. A linguist's job is just to describe the language as it is used, NOT AS IT SHOULD BE USED.
Now, do you want to know how I pronounce the word stage? Well, I have to say that I fluctuate between the two possibilities discussed above: with my friends or with people I know well I tend to use steidʒ; with my superiors, in my work environment, or in more formal situations I say staʒ, as I'm aware of the fact that pedants are always on the lookout for "incorrect forms" and they might object to them vehemently.
The reason why the pronunciation steidʒ is so vigorously condemned is probably because the word stage, compared to zoo, has been in Italian "only" since the early 1960s (it is first attested in 1963). This means that its pronunciation is still unstable and it will probably take some time before people come to accept the more controversial steidʒ.
Canepàri, in his Dizionario di Pronuncia Italiana (Zanichelli, 2009), regards staʒ as the correct form, but acknowledges steidʒ (or even stɛidʒ) as a possible variant, although he judges it meno consigliabile ('less advisable').
In all the other dictionaries I have at home it's more or less the same story.

Yet another word which has been borrowed from English is report, having exactly the same meaning as the noun report in English. Italians normally pronounce it ˈrɛpɔrt or ˈripɔrt, not usually riˈpɔːt or rəˈpɔːt as it is in RP. (People who use the English pronunciation would just be ridiculed, I think, for sounding too posh.)
The word report has been in Italian only since the 1990s and I suppose many people pronounce it ˈrɛpɔrt because this is how the famous presenter Milena Gabanelli pronounces the name of her popular TV show: Report.

Now, over to you my dear readers: How do you pronounce zoo? Which pronunciations do you prefer and/or use for stage? How do you say report? I need as much information as possible!

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  1. Hello Alessandro !!!!!
    Congratulation for your "new blog "
    This page ,regarding the pronuntiation of that words ,is particularly useful for italian students. I'm looking foraward to reading your writing
    Francesca Pica(lumsa)

  2. Federico De Angelis6 November 2010 at 22:04

    I use to say "zoo" with :
    zed like in "doZen"
    the first "o" like in "gOld" (open)
    the second "o" like in "bOld" (closed)

    I use to say "stage" with the french pronunciation (accent on the "e") . But sometimes I heard it pronunciated by Italian people with the english pronunciation /st'eidg/. In this second case the word is not confused with the italian meaning of "palcoscenico" when the context of the speech is referred to work experience.

    I use to say "report" at least in two ways.
    Unformally or quickly speaking I say "rEport" using the wrong italian pronuntiation. I suppose this is why this english word has become popular also in Italian. To give an example, it is commonly used to say in Italian "reportistica", referring to statistics of a business.
    In a more formal way or context I "tend" to use the English standard pronunciation /rip'o:t/.

    I hope it would be useful.

  3. we all in my family pronounce "stage" steidʒ...

  4. Massimiliano Simoni7 November 2010 at 20:04

    Hi Alex.
    I finally had the opportunity to have a look at your blog. I found it very interesting. Good job! :-)
    Concerning the statistics on how we pronounce the three words above:
    I pronounce zoo as ˈdzɔo.
    I pronounce the word stage in the french way.
    Finally I use to say report as ˈrɛpɔrt as Milena Gabanelli does :), but when I speak english I use the correct english form.

    Have a good week

  5. Hi Alex, here I am again.
    How do I pronounce the word "stage"? "staʒ" of course, in the french way, as IT IS a french word.
    In Italy, we tend to pronounce all foreign words in the English/American way. And usually so do I.
    But, in this case, I always use "staʒ" when referring to "work experience, internship" and "steidʒ" when speaking of theatre (or theater :)) .

  6. Maria Luisa Pensa8 November 2010 at 16:28

    Hi Alex

    Here my statistics:
    How do you pronounce zoo?
    ˈdzɔo (100% same answer from different five people aged 44,46,50,57 and 77).
    Which pronunciations do you prefer and/or use for stage?
    staʒ (three people aged 44,50 and 77)
    steidʒ ( two people aged 46 and 57)
    How do you say report?
    ˈrɛpɔrt (100% same answer from different five people aged 44,6,50,57 and 77)
    CU soon MLP

  7. Hi Alex, great blog!
    I pronounce zoo as ˈdzɔo.
    I'm not a purist but I pronounce the word stage in the french way.
    With my italian colleagues I use the pronounce ˈrɛpɔrt otherwise they will not understand.

    Bye bye!

  8. Hi Alex,
    I could finally read this post in your blog.
    I agree with Federico's comment:
    - about zoo: I'm used to read the "z" as in "doZen";
    - stage: of course, I prefer French pronunciation, you and my English course mates know why...;
    - about "report", I'm used to pronounce in the "Italians' way", even if I know it's not the correct one, but the English pronounciation seems so snobbish!

  9. Hi Alex I usually say steidʒ, in the English manner, but I think that it's more correct the French pronunciation staʒ.
    Ciao Marco

  10. Patrizia Dassori9 November 2010 at 11:40

    Hi Alex,
    like most mates above, i pronounce stage in the french way (always, if speaking of work experience).
    As regards the other words:
    zoo for me is ˈdzɔo and report is ˈrɛpɔrt (I even use an italian pronunciation with a strong R at the end!).

  11. Hi Alex,
    your blog is very interesting!
    So :
    I pronounce zoo as ˈdzɔo.
    I pronounce stage in the english way.
    I pronunce report as ˈrɛpɔrt.

    Have a nice day.

  12. Hi Alex
    in my family we pronounce:
    zoo as ˈdzɔo.
    stage in the english way.
    report as Milena Gabbanelli says on tv
    bye paola

  13. Giuseppe Mocerino11 November 2010 at 18:56

    Hi Alex, on Tuesday was it everything OK? I was in Bologna, attending a seminar on Digital Television.
    Herewith my statics on how we pronounce the words listed above.

    Referring to my family

    For “zoo” - My wife, from Taranto (Puglia) pronounces dzɔ, our sons, Francesco, 20 and Roberta 24, have the same pronunciation too. Myself, as you know, I come from Napoli where we tend to double consonants, it is the reason why sometime, making a mistake of course, I pronounce “zoo” doubling the consonant “zed”, having for this something as dzzɔ.

    For “stage” - My family pronounces staʒ , to be honest even if I think that it is incorrect many times I use steidʒ .

    How about report?
    All my family use rɛpɔrt when refers to Italian language, in this case it seems that we assumed this word as an Italian word. (see Gabanelli). Of course when we speak English we try to use the correct form.

  14. Thanks very much everyone for taking the trouble to answer my questions!

  15. "Dobbiamo aggiungere lo xenofonema (ʒ)[ʒ], almeno per le parole francesi, come 'stage' /sˈtaʒ/ [sˈtaːʒ] (che non va letto come se fosse inglese!)."

    Taken from "La Buona Pronuncia Italiana del Terzo Millennio", by Canepàri L. & Giovannelli B. (2009, 2nd edition; Roma, Aracne).

  16. My readers may want to have a look at the updated online version of the DiPI with emendations and additions:

  17. Per quanto riguarda la parola "stage" io la pronuncio steidʒ in qualsiasi occasione, mentre la mia pronuncia della parola "report" varia a seconda del contesto: con i miei amici, la mia famiglia o in qualsiasi altra occasione in cui mi trovi a parlare italiano dico ˈrɛpɔrt mentre quando parlo in inglese la pronuncia che tendo ad usare è riˈpɔːt .