by Lars (Larsino) Leicht
For the non – native speaker…
All Italians can read French, a romance language very similar to their own, but are confounded by its pronunciation. They claim that in Italian, what you see is what you get, while much of French is ‘unpronounced.’ In fact, an Italian friend once told me that because the French cannot cook very well, they have to eat half their words. (Just kidding!!! ?)
It is true that Italian is essentially a phonetic language, as long as you understand a handful of rules. Here are some keys:
- The Vowels – The pronunciation of vowels never changes – no long or short, just one way – A-E-I-O-U is pronounced AH as in baa AY as in hay EE as in bee OH as in go OO as in boo
- Double Letters – Italians are very democratic about letters in a word – every letter gets pronounced whether it needs it or not! That means that to a trained Italian ear, “Lucca” and “Luca” are very different sounding. If you see two consonants, try to hang on each of them for a nano-second. Same goes for vowels, so that the while the words “Zoo” and “coop,” for example, in English both consist of one syllable, in Italian they each have two – sounds like “zoh-oh” and “coh-ohp.”
- The Missing Consonants – There is no ‘k,’ ‘j’ or ‘y’ in Italian, but they are recognized (otherwise how would they get KY Jelly?) from foreign words, which Italians love to embrace and called, respectively, “kappa” (directly from the Greek), “i lunga” (the long j) and “ypsilon” (also directly from the Greek) or more directly “i greca” (the Greek i).
- The Golden Rule of the Cs and Gs – This is where so much of the key to Italian pronunciation pivots. The pronunciation of these two letters change according to what they are in front of:
– When they precede a consonant or the vowels o and u, they are hard – the C is pronounced like a K and the G is pronounced like the G in Girl. – When in front of the vowels i or e, they become soft – C is pronounced as in Cherry and G is pronounced as in Gina, Gelato, etc. – Think of Collina, Castello, Gallo and Goal as examples of the hard sound, Ciao, Cella, Gina, Gemma as examples of the soft sounds.
The game changer is the letter H, when it intercedes between a c/g and an i/e. Consider H a consonant, or remember that ‘H’ stands for hard, so when an h comes between c/g and i/e it makes the c/g hard. Key here is to get the Spanish pronunciation of CH as in cherry out of your mind – in Italian, CH is a K sound. So that is why in the producer’s name, Cecchi, for a great all-in-one example, the first C is soft and the second hard, but in ceci (chick pea) they are both soft. Ghemme the wine is pronounced with the hard ‘G’ because of the presence of the ‘h’ between the ‘g’ and the ‘e’, while Gemme, for gems, is pronounced with the soft “G” like its English counterpart.
So remember – Bruschetta is pronounced BRUH-SKE-TAH not brushetta!!!0