Saturday 14 January 2012

Epen[t]thesis in Standard Italian Pronunciation

(For some reason blogspot didn't let me use my usual font, Segoe UI, but I hope you'll be able to read my article all the same.)

In my post of the 19th November 2011, we discussed the issue of the non-existence in Italy of a phonetics textbook which presents “an objective account of what native speakers of (“standard”) Italian really say”. Towards the end of the article we also mentioned in passing the possibility in current Italian pronunciation of t͜s instead of plain s after the consonants n, r and l (what we didn’t say then was that this epenthetic t is to be found not only word internally but also across word boundaries and that it is considered by Italian linguists and phoneticians to be a feature of regional accents rather than a characteristic of the standard variety):

“And what’s wrong with ts instead of traditional s [after] n, r, l? After all, epenthetic t has now become increasingly widespread among native speakers and can frequently also be heard on all television channels. Why is, for instance, ˈpɛntso (penso, ‘I think’) not acceptable? Is it again because of clarity?”

I want to show you a video of the morning television programme UnoMattina Caffè (very similar to BBC Breakfast in the UK), broadcast by RAI from Monday to Friday and presented by university lecturer and TV author Guido Barlozzetti. The clip only lasts 3 minutes and features my brother, Sirio Rotatori, publicizing the recent Christmas events organized by him in Tarquinia. Both my brother and Mr Barlozzetti can be said to speak a variety of Italian which I would regard as standard and they can both be heard to use epenthetic t in the environments we described above:

Guido Barlozzetti

persegue (‘it pursues’; at about 0:03), perˈtseɡwe
insomma (‘if you like’; at about 0:15), inˈtsomma
transito (‘passing of time’; at about 0:16), ˈtrantsito
(a velocità) non sostenuta (‘at slow speed’; at about 0:28), ˌnɔntsosteˈnuta
consentono (‘they allow’; at about 1:01), konˈtsɛntono
attraverso (‘through’; at about 1:52), attraˈvɛrtso
il sei gennaio (‘the 6th January’; at about 2:12), ilˌtsɛi dʒenˈnajo

Sirio Rotatori

considerando (‘considering’; at about 1:19), kontsideˈrando
persone (‘people, persons’; at about 1:31), perˈtsone (but he pronounces it without epenthesis at about 2:04)
conoscersi (‘to get to know each other’; at about 2:05), koˈnoʃʃertsi
insieme (‘together’; at 2:06 and 2:08), inˈtsjɛme
il sei gennaio (‘the 6th January’; at about 2:13), ilˌtsɛi dʒenˈnajo (cf. Guido Barlozzetti’s pronunciation of this phrase).

The phenomenon of t epenthesis just illustrated is so widespread that even Prime Minister Mario Monti and President Giorgio Napolitano can sometimes also be heard to use it in their political speeches. So why do Italian pronunciation dictionaries and phonetics books either keep shtum or still regard this as a reprehensible regionalism?   

I wonder.
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Next post: 4 February.


  1. That's very interesting it might be a topic for cross-class and cross-generational empirical research throughout all Italy though...

  2. I can affirm, despite my beginner knowledge about the topic, that almost all the people i know use ts instead of a "classic" s. And this tendence is homogeneously spread without either social or age distinctions or regional ones. Might I venture to state that a use of "classical" s really sounds old-fashioned or something like a forced pronunciation like the one used in drama during the first half of the 20 th century?

  3. I'm sorry, but politicians and TV presenters can no longer be considered valid examples of Italian "standards". I assure you that in theater and voice acting is still considered a serious defect. Moreover, in all the north (and in Tuscany and Emilia) is practically absent.

    1. "...politicians and TV presenters can no longer be considered valid examples of Italian "standards" "

      What's your definition of Standard Italian?

      "I assure you that in theater and voice acting is still considered a serious defect."

      I'm fully aware of that, but phonetics is nothing to do with acting, I'm afraid!

      " all the north (and in Tuscany and Emilia) is practically absent."

      I'm sorry but this is totally untrue!

    2. scusami se replico in italiano... ho pochi pregi e nessuno di questi ha a che fare con l'inglese :-)
      ovviamente si tratta di un'opinione personale e magari ho interpretato male quello che ho letto.
      me era per chiacchierare--- nessuna polemica.
      non mi occupo di fonetica ma di italiano, dizione e recitazione - seriamente - da molti anni.
      secondo me, il fatto che si sia da tempo perso interesse nella cosa, anche in molti degli ambienti storicamente considerati esempio di "buona dizione italiana" (almeno nei molti libri che trattano l'argomento dal 1500 ad oggi che possiedo - tra cui figurano anche attori, speaker, doppiatori, ecc...), non giustifica la deriva di tutto il "sistema pronuncia"... intendo dire: la pronuncia dell'italiano neutro, sappiamo tutti, è una convenzione - tanto quanto la sua grafia, il cui cambiamento va valutato con molta calma (ma è successo e continuerà a succedere - come la pronuncia di s e z sonore o non sonore che è fortemente mutata negli anni)... sarò conservatore cocciuto ma - al momento - il cambio che proponi tu mi pare equivalente all'accettare una grafia scorretta solo perché tantissimi la usano.

      che poi a me non risultano poi così tantissimi...

      " all the north (and in Tuscany and Emilia) is practically absent."

      I'm sorry but this is totally untrue!

      generalizzavo ma non mi pare proprio,
      ovviamente mi baso su esperienza personale e studi (con registrazioni) non miei e non recentissimi...
      ma, vista la tua sicurezza, deduco che hai condotto degli studi documentati che sarei ansioso di leggere (non sono ironico).

      a presto.

  4. How can you regard your brother's italian pronunciation as neutral? Do you believe that "due leggioni romane" and "collabborano" are examples of neutral italian? Not to mention his intonation...


    1. My definition of Standard Italian Pronunciation (SIP) is more flexible than the to me outmoded standard pronunciation referred to in books throughout Italy. Although my brother shows some traits typical of the area he lives in and comes from (=Tarquinia), I regard these features as being widely acceptable within my own definition of current SIP.

      Btw, I don't hear [ledʒˈdʒone] but [leˈdʒone].