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The pronunciation thread

Stimulated by @tasse-tee, I studied some italian and english pronunciation rules, and I discovered some amazing things. I’d like to share, I hope it could be of some interest.

I’ll begin trying to explain the italian pronunciation of vowels.

Be patient, I’m writing…


As an aside, here’s a book on Italian orthography (among others) I enjoyed:;keyword=orthographies

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Letter A

It is very easy. the letter “A” in italian is ALWAYS:

a (IPA)


Here is the IPA chart for all the vowels:

Italians can’t pronunciate correctly the english A’s because in the IPA chart, the only italian A is this:

while the “standard english” A’s are all of these:

So, you can understand how it should be complicated to distinguish between 3 sounds when we recognize only one.

But things are actually much more complicated. Those 3 A’s are “standard english” A’s, and I mean the “received pronunciation”.

But, really, how many people talk like that? if you take all the different A’s in the various kinds of english spoken all over the world, thing get much more messy.

These are the english open-mid to open vowel sounds, according to Wikipedia, in the world:

And this is the italian corresponding:

Can you believe it? English is much more difficult than italian in pronunciation!

We started this discussion talking about the graphic symbol A and its corresponding sounds. Let’s do the other way round:

This, on the chart, is the range of vowels that are vaguely perceived as an A to an italian ear:

The funny fact is that they are written in english, sometimes with an A (“hat”, “bath”), sometimes wit a U (es. “stuck”), sometimes with an O (es. “lot”, “hot”), sometimes with an E (second in “letter”)…

WOW. That’s a mess.

Oh, I was going to forget… If italian pronunciation rules for A are sooooo simple, why english and american people simply can’t get right the italian A?
Simple answer… the IPA sound “a”, the only itlaian sound for A, is quite rare in english. The strange thing is that italian has only 7 vowels, much less than english. The 7 italian vowels correspond more or less to the 8 IPA “cardinal vowels”. Even if “a” is one of the 8 cardinal vowels, as I wrote it’s not so common in english. Check out this:

Stay tuned for the second vowel, E.


Wow! (=pronunciation in italian: UAU!)
What an exhaustive explanation!


You know, the movie I was watching with my wife was really boring…


This is really interesting, and you’ve explained it well!
I can’t believe how many sounds could be interpreted as an A by Italians :open_mouth:

That’s because since we don’t have all those sounds, our brain tries to redirect them to the nearest known codified sound…

EDIT: To compile that list I listened to the sample of every sound, and marked in red the ones which TO ME resembled an A.
So maybe there’s some subjectivity in the 2 o 3 most vague sounds.

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Cinema, bat, cut, mouse, mouth, ladder, theatre, lamp, man, hand, car…

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And, think about it… there are 6 graphic symbols for vowels in english… while the IPA sounds are 39… So english people do the same. But probably they associate the same sounds to different graphic symbols…

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Huh, really? To your average Dutch person that’s clearly pronounced ket (like in English bet; no IPA on phone).

I’d say that, too. It’s “ket” to me, too. As I said, there’s some subjectivity.

After I say all those words out loud, but with the A sound that Ema linked to, it makes sense to me why you might have difficulties!

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Thanks, this is very interesting. I’d like to add that vowels in Italian can be open or close. Exempli gratia: é (close); è (open). Then there are probably ten different sounds for vowels (5 x 2). And, despite an official and elegant official pronunciation exists for words, it’s on how people pronounce vowels here (open or close on each word) that you can get an important feedback on the regional accent. Anyway the main emission of sound doesn’t change, and infact we use the same symbol.
above there’s a link about vowels in latin that, despite different in their classification, are the same we use now.


So, Kate, first rule of thumb for your italian pronunciation: say always “a”, as if you’re at the dentist.


Yes, that’s why I said we have 7 phonetic italian vowels and only five symbols. I will write more in the second “lesson”.

But it’s not correct to say 5x2=10, because only E and O has the open and closed variant. So the basic vowels are only 7.
Anyway you are right, 7 are the basic italian vowels, but if you consider all the regional variations you could count up to 10 or more. Anyway, far less than english, which covers 3/4 of the chart…

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Katie :wink:
And yes, I think I will try learning some Italian!

I’ve made all this effort with the only purpose of being allowed to f**k up vowels…

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If I think of english pronunciation (if I ever learned it), it’s probably one of the most difficult things I had to learn regarding that language. And that was accomplished mostly hearing it, and with a little help of a dictionary. It’s like a starting difficulty you can overtake only by speaking it and listen to it. You have to “live” the english language first. After you got into the pronunciation, main rules are not so difficult (or it’s just me that never learned them all :slight_smile: )


BTW, these are the 7 italian vowels according to Wikipedia:


This is what “cat” sounds like for me (vs “cut”).
Cat, like bat. The cat sat on the mat.

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