Tuesday, May 8

Italian language: not for the faint of tongue

Anyone who has ever tried to learn English will instantly regale you with their trials and tribulations of wading through the synonym minefield of read, read, reed and red.  They'll trip over the pronunciation of words beginning with 'th', or they'll soon implode over the differences in British English that they learned (or is it learnt) in school, versus what might be expressing from your very lips to say the same thing (like parking lot or car park, boot or trunk).
For those of us who recall those heady days of elementary school grammar and spelling bees (quick -- here's a little party ice breaker for you:  If you want to make an Italian crack up, just mention spelling bees), it would seem that landing in all-phonetic all-the-time Italy would be a cakewalk.  Italians never have to spell except over the phone, in which case they use cities to call out the letters.  Just when you have your cities down pat, up come the double consonants.
For another party conversation piece, try splitting hairs over the difference between capello and cappello (a strand of hair and a hat) Or, between tutta and tuta (everything and a sweatsuit).  You'll have the guests heaving in peels of laughter at your sheer inability to hear the difference at all, let alone pronounce it.
[hint: just try to keep that consonant longer on the lips - I never can].
But little did I consider (and I've been here quite awhile) that the Italian language also had its own share of homonyms, just when I thought it was safe to deliver Aqua as Acqua.  I was astounded when, over dinner recently with friends, we came across the topic of - yes, pronunciation.  I was baffled to hear how, in phonetic Italy, we've become lazy over the years, and now say Quattordici (14) as if it were written, Quatordici 
[Note: not that any of us foreigners would have heard the difference in the first place, but play along just to amuse me].
To add insult to my sheer ignorance, I discovered that pesca (a peach) is a totally different word than pesca (fishing). It's all in the way that 'e' rolls off your tongue.  [Not that I'd know which way is which].


Having gone down a list of such words, some with double consonants, some without...all I can say to you, dear readers is, Do as I say, not as I do.




and for real Italian tongue twisters...click here!

7 comments:

mammacita said...

I call BS on that!!!!

SusieW said...

yeah, right... i know if italians are talking about a peach or fishing the same way that they know i am talking about a vegetable (carrot) or a gold ring (karat).....no????

;)

clt said...

Think about how you pronounce the letter 'k' in the following two words: beekeeper and bookkeeper

DanieleN said...

maybe this can be useful ... but a little bit complicated for me and i think even for foreigners

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonorizzazione_(fonetica)#Esempi_italiani

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfabeto_fonetico_internazionale#Vocali_aperte_e_semiaperte

DanieleN said...

And, look at the different accent of the è and é

http://www.etimo.it/?cmd=id&id=12873&md=f4be69fb8c61adaf03ec5da8d7507d75

http://www.etimo.it/?cmd=id&id=12874&md=75096f3bcb27860d460391390c6cafe7

Francesca Maggi said...

I am actually the (not so) proud owner of a whole course in Italian diction...needless to say, I never listened to the tapes.

Joanna said...

My landlord spent ten minutes repeating the words ,meta, and ,meta', trying to make me hear the difference. He then had the cheek to wonder why I didn't want to talk to him in Italian, when he was that picky over an understandable mistake a month after I arrived!

To be fair, now I can hear the difference. Not sure if my Italian is better or other people speak more clearly. But I maintain he said them identically.