Saturday 24 March 2012

Italian compression

How do you pronounce words like piano, pieno, genio and riunire in Standard Italian Pronunciation (SIP)? Are they ˈpjano, ˈpjɛno, ˈpje-, ˈdʒɛnjo and rjuˈnire, -ɛ or piˈano, piˈɛno, piˈe-, ˈdʒɛnio and (ˌ)riuˈnire, -ɛ?

This is prompted by reading the phonetic transcriptions contained in the Dizionario di Pronuncia Italiana (DiPI) for the following utterances: abiogenesi, abituandosi, abituo, accentuale, accentuo. How do Italians say these words? 

Here’s what we find in DiPI:

abiogenesi abioˈdʒɛnezi, -jo-

abituandosi abituˈandosi; -ˈtwa-; ↓-zi

abituo aˈbituo; -wo

accentuale atʃtʃentuˈale, -ˈtwa-

accentuo atʃˈtʃɛntuo; -wo

(Note: the comma before a transcription indicates that the following pronunciation is to be regarded as “acceptable”; the symbol (;) stands for “tolerated” though also “not particularly recommended”; the downward-pointing arrow means “slovenly”.)

I find the above transcriptions somewhat inconsistent. Why would a compressed pronunciation be “acceptable” in accentuale but “tolerated”/”not particularly recommended” in accentuo? What’s the reasoning behind this decision on the part of the author?

In SIP, sequences of i/u plus another vowel are normally pronounced as rising/crescendo diphthongs (=compressed), the close vowels being realised as j and w respectively. But in less hurried/more emphatic speech, the uncompressed variants with vowel hiatus are always possible. Thus for dizionario I can say ˌdi(ts)tsioˈnario, ˌdi(ts)tsjoˈnario, ˌdi(ts)tsioˈnarjo, and ˌdi(ts)tsjoˈnarjo. The same for italiano: (ˌ)italiˈano, (ˌ)itaˈljano

The town in which I was born is called Tarquinia. Again this can be both tarˈkwinia and tarˈkwinja (perhaps also (ˌ)tarkuˈi- in carefully articulated speech).

So that's how I would transcribe the five words above:

abiogenesi (ˌ)abioˈdʒɛnezi, →(ˌ)abjo-, -ˈdʒɛnesi

abituandosi (ˌ)a(ˌ)bituˈandosi, →-ˈtwan-

abituo aˈbituo, →-two; aˈbituɔ, →-twɔ

accentuale (ˌ)atʃ(ˌ)tʃentuˈale, →-ˈtwa-

accentuo atʃˈtʃɛntuo, →-two

(Note: the comma and the (;) symbol here are used only to separate out the different pronunciations and don't imply any degree of ‘acceptance’/’tolerance’.)

The symbol (→) could be taken to mean the same as in John Wells’s LPD: 

“For some speakers, a form shown with → may correspond to the way a word is stored in the mental lexicon, whereas for others the same form may be derived by phonological rule”. (p.xxviii)

What I’ve tried to describe here is what we might call la ˌkompresˈsjoneitaˈljana.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Next post: Saturday 7 April.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, Alex. At work a few years ago, I was proofreading the cover for a book by an author who wasn't named "Pianoforte," although the arrangement of vowels was similar (I don't consider it a good idea to use real examples from work). As typeset, a line break occurred between the "i" and the "a." I'd never heard the author pronounce his own name, so I commented that whether the word break is OK depends on that pronunciation, but that it might be safest to break it between the "a" and the "n."

    Just a little off topic: I recently heard a nonnative speaker of English use the word "ambigwity." It made perfect sense to me, and now I'm always on the verge of using that pronunciation.