Tuesday 26 July 2011

It’s all(-)inclusive!

A friend of mine from Italy has asked me what the correct Italian pronunciation of the English phrase all-inclusive is. Her question wasn’t so much related to the quality of the vowels as to where to put the stress on the second word of the compound: do Italians follow the English stressing or do they shift it to another syllable?

We all know that the expression all-inclusive in English is pronounced ˌɔːl ɪnˈkluːsɪv, ˌɑːl-, -ɪŋ-, -ˈkluːz- when in isolation and that the main stress is never on the -ɪn- or -ɪŋ- of the second term of the compound, since this usually counts as a non-native learner’s error. In contemporary Standard Italian, though, this is not always the case. Pronunciations like ˌol inˈklusiv, -iŋ-, -ziv and -ˈin-, -ˈiŋ- are all possible and to be heard very frequently. The ones with main stress on the second syllable of inclusive are usually regarded as the traditional variants, that is the correct pronunciations which should be adopted in educated speech. The -ˈin-, -ˈiŋ- pattern, on the other hand, is slightly more recent and is considered by many as sloppy, although it is becoming increasingly common among educated native speakers and, in particular, among Italian travel agents.

To my amazement, the phrase all(-)inclusive is not contained in any of the Italian pronouncing dictionaries I own, but we can find it in the Devoto-Oli (2011, p.88), which dates it back to 2003 and regrettably only shows the variant based on the English pronunciation.

The shifting of stress in Italian trisyllables is particularly tricky. Trisyllabic words traditionally were stressed on the penultimate syllable (as is usual for the majority of Italian words), but today we are witnessing a shift to the antepenultimate syllable, a phenomenon which has been interpreted by linguists as a reaction to the usual pattern ·ˈ··. So, for example, (imprenditore) edile (‘building contractor’) can be both eˈdile and ˈɛdile; Florida is almost always ˈflɔrida and hardly ever floˈrida, flɔ- (though that’s what I heard last week pronounced by a news correspondent on Italian television); Kolossal (‘a blockbuster film’) is traditionally koˈlɔssal but nowadays usually ˈkɔlossal, -lɔs-; salubre (‘healthy’) used to be saˈlubre but today is normally ˈsalubre; zaffiro (‘sapphire’) is now ˈdzaffiro, (maybe also ˈtsaf-), but some people still say dzafˈfiro.

The stress patterns illustrated above are, as I said, extremely common, but sometimes still regarded as incorrect even by distinguished linguists like Paolo D’Achille, Professor of Italian Linguistics at the Università di Roma Tre. In his book L’Italiano Contemporaneo (Il Mulino, 2006), Mr D’Achille refers to these new (?) stress trends as “non standard” (p.104), despite admitting that they are all very widespread.

I personally regard these changes in stress as normal and quite unimpressive. Language changes and always has.

As linguists, I think, we should all concern ourselves with describing what the facts really are rather than drawing up and imposing useless rules which nobody abides by.


This blog will now take a break. Next post in three weeks’ time.


  1. Thank you for your detailed view on the English pronounciation. I'm always reading your posts with interest. It was nice to get to know you. Eva (an Austrian friend of Francesca)

  2. Thank you, Eva!
    Yes, I remember you. We met in London three years ago...

  3. Beh sul termine "all-inclusive" sono sempre stata indecisa, tanto da correggermi nel bel mezzo del discorso e finire per pronunciarlo in tutte le maniere possibili ed immaginabili, con gran pena del povero interlocutore di turno.Comunque la prima pronuncia che mi vien subito alle labbra è quella (sbagliatissima) che vuole l'accento sulla prima "i" di "inclusive".Per quanto riguarda la pronuncia della parola "edile" uso più frequentemente eˈdile , sebbene non manchino rare occasioni in cui pronuncio anche ˈɛdile .Per quanto riguarda invece "Florida", "kolossal", "salubre" e "zaffiro" pronuncio sempre e soltanto ˈflɔrida , ˈkɔlɔssal , ˈsalubre e dzafˈfiro !