Professor Pennywhistle’s Pointers for Pronouncing Italian: An Appendix
Italian is one of the most beautiful and poetic languages spoken on the earth today. It is second only to Estonian and Finnish, which makes it third, really, unless Estonian and Finnish are tied for first. In which case it would indeed be second.
Here is a quick and easy guide to help you pronounce Italian words like an Italian, and not like someone who only thinks they know how to speak Italian.
These are sounds that, appearing alone, require the speaker to have an open mouth from start to finish, like something amazing or perplexing has happened. If you are going to hold the vowel sounds for a long time, it is a good idea to have a tissue close by to wipe the drool off your chin.
a=ah, like at the doctor’s office, but shorter
e=a, as in “eh,” like some Canadians say
y is superfluous, like an extra toe. Not that Professor Pennywhistle knows anything about that personally.
These are not those annoying flippety sandals or that ridiculously impractical and silly-looking underwear, but they are what happens when two vowels go walking. In Italy, predictably, they both do the talking, usually at the very same time, and loudly.
oi=oy!, which is British for “hey!”
Consonants are very seldom entertaining at parties, and they’re not very useful when you’re screaming for help, even though three of the letters in “help” are consonants. But we still need them to separate our vowels, and they come in very handy when you wish to grunt or blow raspberries.
s between vowels=z (insert picture of bee or sleeping person, thought Professor Pennywhistle has never know anyone to actually zzzz’d during sleep, though he acknowledges that his experience observing people sleep is quite limited.
ss or initial s=s (insert picture of snake or Madagascar hissing cockroach
“C” is a special case. By itself in front of almost anything, it is prononunced “k,” a letter the Italians don’t trust, and have therefore excluded from their alphabet. But when it gets in front of an “i” or an “e”, it softens perhaps because “i” and “e” are so cute:
ci=chi, as in Chihuahua, which is a city in Mexico, and a kind of sandwich served with relish and mustard and cheese curds
ce=che, as in Che Guevara
That is, unless an “he” wanders in between, in which case “c” reverts back to “k”:
Come to think of it, these same rules apply also to “g,” which is generally hard, as in “golly,” but becomes “j” in front of an “i” or “e,” like “gee.” If an “h” gets between them, “g” stiffens up once again.
Which raises a particular peeve of Professor Pennywhistle’s.
Say the following word: “Giovanni.” You are probably saying it incorrectly.
Most speakers of English, knowing that the “i” turns the “g” into a “j” don’t realize that that is all the “i” does, and then it shuts up. So they say things like
which is like the screaming of a banshee or a marmoset with gastritis to Professor Pennywhistle’s sensitive ear. It should be
which restores peace and harmony in the universe, and balances the chi (the Chinese chi, not the Italian chi, which you would use to open your front door).