Tuesday 19 July 2011


This week’s blog is prompted by a post on John Wells’s phonetic blog about the pronunciation of the Latin-derived English prefix quasi-. On July 14th, several of John’s followers commented on the way the name Quasimodo is pronounced in English, which made me think about its pronunciation in Italian.

In LPD (p.658), under the entry Quasimodo, one finds the note “[t]he Italian poet was kwa ˈziː mo do, kwa zi ˈmɔː do”. Strange, I thought: I’ve never heard the second variant! So I went and looked it up in the DOP (=Dizionario Italiano Multimediale e Multilingue d’Ortografia e di Pronunzia) and found that the pronunciation (ˌ)kwaziˈmɔdo is used (or rather, should be used, as the authors put it in the dictionary) in the expression domenica (di) Quasimodo (or quasimodo), another name for domenica in albis, (in the Christian Church) the first Sunday after Easter. The phrase is apparently derived from the Latin expression quasi modo geniti infantes (‘like newborn babies’), which is nowadays still (sometimes) used at the beginning of Mass on the Sunday after Easter.

The authors of the DOP also note that the name Quasimodo should be given penultimate stress if one is referring to the protagonist of the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) by Victor Hugo, but it can also be – and today usually is – kwaˈzimodo if you’re referring to the Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968).

To be honest, I don’t think this is completely true. Italians nowadays always (?) stress the word Quasimodo on the second syllable, whether they are talking about Hugo’s fictional character or the name of the late poet. The pronunciation (ˌ)kwaziˈmɔdo is considered affected and old-fashioned and I would go so far as to say that it is today totally unknown by the majority of Italians.

Canepàri (or indeed Canepari – Jack, remember?) rightly gives kwaˈzimodo as the main pronunciation and kwaziˈmɔdo as the “traditional” one, by which he means the pronunciation recommended by elocution and acting teachers in the past. This may indicate, thus, that apart from actors, no one in Italy has really ever used the variant with penultimate stress.

As far as Salvatore Quasimodo is concerned, the DiPI (p.417) makes it clear that it is pronounced “salvaˈtore kwaˈzimodo”, though this entry, too, is incomplete, as some Italians use s in the surname, others ɔ instead of o in the penultimate syllable of the same word; others still use both.

Am I wrong in this? Is there any Italian out there who says kwaziˈmɔdo, as the dictionary by RAI prescribes?


  1. La mia pronuncia è con fricativa alveolare sonora, accento tonico sulla seconda sillaba ed entrambe le o chiuse :)

    Giovanbattista Fichera

  2. Strano!Nemmeno io avevo mai sentito "Quasimodo" accentato sulla terza sillaba!Fin da piccola, apprendendo la pronuncia dal noto film Disney "Il gobbo di Notre Dame", ho sempre accentato la seconda sillaba e chiuso entrambe le "o"!