Are you looking to learn Italian alphabet letters and theit pronunciation? Then you’ve just landed in the right place. In this lesson we will take a glance to the vowels and consonants of Italian language. We will automatically learn the correct pronunciation of each single letter by listening to the records and trying to imitate as best as we can the recorded sounds!
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The original Italian alphabet is essentially composed by 5 vowels:
Italian alphabeth is also composed by 16 consonants, Even if in the last decades lots of terms borrowed from other languages brought new consonants into Italian alphabet.
The 16 original consonants are:
before A – O – U Cane (dog)
before E – I Cinghiale (boar)1
before A – O – U Gatto (cat)
before E – I Giraffa (giraffe)2
In addition to the preceding classical consonants, in modern Italian we can even find many borrowed words and letters just like:
Würstel (frankfurter, hot dog)
The history of Italian alphabet
Italian alphabet can be considered as a continuation of Latin alphabet, which is derived in turn from Greek alphabet, formed around 750 B.C. The Greeks adapted the Phoenician syllabic system adding signs for the vowels and disengaging the symbols from the world objects to which they referred back, thus achieving, for the first time, the correspondence between a sound and a sign (the A, eg.).
As it remains of an ox muzzle overturned: see. Givon 1989; Gelb, 1993: 244). According to scholars like Olson (1994) and Havelock (2005), this process of abstraction has had significant cognitive consequences, enabling a new way of thinking about Italian language and to evaluate their thoughts through writing.
This efficient and cost-desk system arrived in Italy probably through the colony Cuma, and was the ancient Etruscan population the first to transcribe its own language. The oldest alphabetical document of Italian peninsula is in facts an Etruscan tablet of the Seventh century B.C.
The alphabet of the Etruscan language is the Oscan alphabets. Umbrian and Latin are direct antecedent of the Italian one: in fact, the signs of the Latin alphabet, will be used to write Vulgar Italian, with predictable gaps in the transcription of new sounds (as they are developed through the palatal affricate / ʧ / and / ʤ /).
The birth of Italian alphabet
The problem from the graphic rendering of vulgar Italian with the Latin alphabet and the various solutions adopted by the writers opened, as early as the High Middle Ages, the road to the Italian on the alphabet discussions accompanying the ➔ language issue in Italy until the twentieth century.
Between the eighth and twelfth centuries, the documents show that all transcriptions of vulgar graphemes were executed through the use of ancient signs gradually less familiar with Italian alphabet.
In this regard, it should be remembered that until the sixteenth century there were no grammar teaching books in Italian language to punish or to authorize certain uses of writers and to sanction the inclusion or exclusion of a particular letter in the alphabet.
It is, for example, the case of significant consonants s and k, also present in the formula of Placito Capuano of 960 (the first written testimony in which the Italian vernacular was consciously opposed to Latin):
Sao ko kelle lands, for purposes kelle que ki CONTAINS thirty years Possette part sancti Benedicti (cit. In Migliorini 200712: 90).
Migliorini notes that:
“where the similarities with the Latin words was still strongly felt, it was obvious that it tended to remain at the Latin script: the significance of that with the relative pronoun is rendered with que”
while in other cases he resorted to the letter k, massively used in notarial records until at least the fourteenth century in place of c to represent the voiceless velar stop.
Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, the Italian alphabet composition was not, then, at all stable, especially with regard to the sound attributed to the various letters.
In particular, they were swinging the corresponding graphs of the sounds absent in Latin, such as affricates: the sounds / ʦ / and / ʣ /, that classic Latin indicated with z only in grecism, in medieval maps are rendered with z, zi, zz, tz, tzi, tztz, cz, with Latin to you and us, and with other minor variations, including, especially in central and northern, the ç sign, now disappeared from contemporary Italian; palatal / ɲ / (transcribed variously: as gn, ni, ngn, etc.) / ʎ / (him, gl, lgl, li, ls, etc.) and / ʃ / (sc, ss, you, and sgi gi for the sound in Tuscany and even x in the Ligurian scripta, as stated in the Declaration of Paxia, vernacular Ligurian text of the twelfth century).
It was only in the sixteenth century, era of Italian primary coding, which Italian language had an almost definitive stabilization of its alphabet. Located in the Florence of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, the reference model, the different vulgar Italian began a slow and never completed process of approximation to the norm.
Later, the reduction and the imparted character performed by the press and the birth of grammars played a decisive role in the Italian alphabet fixation.
Just in the work of a grammar checker of texts in typography, Lodovico Dolce, author of Osservationi in vulgar language (1550), the Italian alphabet was so described, with some differences compared to the current one:
I will only say […] the letter be the smallest part of the word: what the letter (so as to surveyors at the point) in no part can be divided. as a b c and the other the alphabet: I am twenty-two, a b c d e f g h i l m n o p q r s t u x y z (Sweet, 2004: 260).
The inclusion of some letters and their use were, in fact, swinging for centuries. Eg., On the use of the letter J, which already Dolce excluded, you have alternated habits: after the failure of the sixteenth-century attempt to use it as a semi-vowel in the diphthongs (pjede), it is still in the fifth edition of the Dictionary of Crusca (suspended, incomplete, in 1923) as a compendium of -i in the plural of the terms-I (study, Studj).
Luigi Pirandello uses it even in words like guajo, etc. In variants like Yugoslavia or Jole, then, the J came to the present days.
Italian alphabet through Italian Literature
The discussions on Italian alphabet also stimulated the emergence of a literary genre, marginal but certainly curious: that of poems dedicated to the defense or the prosecution of certain letters. As we read in Diringer (1969: XXI), it is a generally already present in the classical world with Lucian of Samosata.
This ‘alphabetic satire’ often appears in the Italian tradition, especially in the age-old controversy in verse against fiorentiniste choices of the Academy of Bran; one for all the theatrical farce The dial plate of the H Pier Jacopo Martello (1723), a dispute in which h is the winner and retain the right to stay in Italian alphabet, but not in the pronunciation of Italian language.
Italian alphabet through the eyes of etimologists and phoneticians
Until the nineteenth century, the debate around Italian alphabet remained lively. To counteract were, first, the etymologists, who were inclined for a Latin etymology and spelling. On the other hand Phoneticians, which instead proposed ortofoniche reforms based on the addition of Italian alphabet signs identified italian sounds without unique reference in the spelling ( cfr. Maraschio 1994: 211).
These attempts through the whole history of Italian language: for example, that in the sixteenth century Gian Giorgio Trissino aims to indicate the ε and ω the first or later opened or closed (as if this were the greek pronunciation); or, in the nineteenth century, Polycarp Petrocchi suggested to indicatewith ʃ and ʒ s and z sound.
The proposals went as far as to the design of partially ortophonic alphabeths, ancestors of the modern International Phonetic Alphabet, such as the one invented in 1584 by Giorgio Bartoli to transpose the thirty-five of the Tuscan sounds.
However, Italian alphabet proved to be substantially refractory to innovations: to transcribe the sounds without a reference grapheme that will be used increasingly to combinations of letters.
The nouns of italian letters and the origin of the word alphabet
The origin of Italian alphabet letters does not have a definite perspective. However, it is generally considered that, unlike the Greeks, the Romans already called the letters with their sound, made pronounceable, in the case of consonants, by the addition of one or more vowels.
The same mechanism is consolidated in today’s italian alphabet, where the first letters are read in, bi, ci, of, and, effe, etc. As to the kind of consonant names, the use is still uncertain except for zeta, feminine because of the ending (but k, equally incumbent in -a, continues to oscillate between / kappa).
It can be said, therefore, b and c, but also b, c and so on, keep implying the masculine “sign” and the female “letter”. This oscillation is found in the Prose of vulgar language ➔ Pietro Bembo (1525) in which, by the majority of letters referred to the female “B” and “D”.
The term alphabet itself (lat. Alphabetum) was not alleged in Italian right away. Certificate for the first time in the third century A.D. in Tertullian (the classical Greeks spoke of grámma, “the letters”; alfábetos came into use later, under the influence of Latin), where they had to compete with the Tuscan abbiccì, as reflected in the alphabet Voice of the first edition of the Dictionary of Crusca (1612 ):
Still in the Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (1883) we can notice the school ABC book (by abbiccì, with reflection of the Tuscan pronunciation of the letter names be, ce, de, ge, pe, you, ve) to represent the emblem of the attempts provide schooling for the puppet.
Knowing Italian alphabet
The grammaticographic tradition (➔ history of the Italian language) traditionally places the knowledge of the alphabet first. Already in the first century AD, Quintilian meant the study of the letters as a preliminary education for children and recommended exercises for storage: to recognize the letters in any order, give them “littererum formas” (Quintilian 2007: 28).
That includes, ivory letters or other materials with which they could learn by playing, train them to trace letters follow in making an incision. Later, grammars confirm the prime importance of learning graphemes: since when, since the seventeenth century, the division of the subject in grammar texts began to stabilize according to the order roughly preserved even today (➔ spelling; ➔ morphology ; ➔ syntax), the description of the alphabet began to occupy the opening paragraphs.
Of course, from one text to another, according to times and authors, it changes the way you propose it. The alphabet can be presented as a mere list of symbols, but may also reflect the cultural orientations of the period.
The word is meeting or, rather, the idea synthesis or sound. Each word is therefore a small body, which we can represent graphically, making them correspond to the sole or primary sound that is, a sign, a letter (Trabalza & Allodoli 1934: 3).
In contrast, in Italian Grammar by Salvatore Battaglia and Vincenzo Pernicone, another important text of the twentieth century, but back about twenty years (1951), it has adopted a strictly linguistic-structuralist approach. In it Italian alphabet is presented as “the systematic series of signs that translate the sounds in graphical and visual form» (Battle & Pernicone 19632: 13).
What is considered a culturally priority is the knowledge of the alphabet witness. The term illiterate, which identifies who is devoid of the minimum levels of education and, therefore, the basic language skills.
The term illiterate is also commonly used as a synonym for ignorance in a broad sense, with a strong pejorative nuance. On the other hand, learn the abc of a discipline, not necessarily of a language, has become an idiom effective at making the idea of the acquisition of basic knowledge.
According to data from a survey (De Mauro 2004), it seems that the illiteracy rate in Italy in the twenty-first century is about 5%, meaning illiterate people unable to read a sentence like “the cat is meowing”. 33%, however, in semianalfabetism conditions and does not exceed the reading of phrases like “the cat is meowing because he is hungry”.
The illiterate, however, is also transformed into literary character in the poetry of the twentieth century. Guido Gozzano, in fact, in the poem “The illiterate”, inspired by the elderly caretaker of his villa, praises, or rather pretends to praise, “the word is not forced / of those who can not read and write” (Gozzano 2008: 54 ). The illiterate becomes, therefore, in great shape, free from false intellectualism and bearer of authentic values.
1As you have seen the pronunciation of C consonant changes according to the vowel that follows it.
2Pay attention to the pronunciation of G consonant, in particular when it is located before E and I wowels.