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In contrast to English, Italian is a much more legato language.  It is all about vowels with consonants added for color.  If you ever hear a late night argument outside your apartment in the streets of Italy, you will notice that Italians emphasized emotion through the vowels, with little effort on the consonants.

Before we dig into the sounds of Italian, we need to discuss word stress.  Word stress falls almost consistently on the penultimate syllable in Italian.  The two exceptions to this rule are

1.  When the final syllable has an accent, the stress moves to the final syllable.  Example: pietà [pjɛ'ta].

2.  Third person plural conjugations stress the antepenultimate syllable.  Look for verbs that end in -ano or -ono.  Example: parlano ['parlano]

There will always be exceptions to any rule.  If you're unsure look it up.  Some other hints for antepenultimate stress are...adjectives ending in -issimo, -abele, -evole, -and -esimo, and nouns ending in -udine, or -logo.  Again, if you're unsure look it up!

Click here for a basic discussion of IPA symbols and sounds.

Sounds and Symbols

As we did with English, let's start with what we already know.  The sounds and symbols that remain constant with English are...



[ɛ] [e]


[ɔ] [o]


*notice the neutral vowels are gone.

Plosive and Fricative

[b] [p]

[d] [t]

[g] [k]

[dʒ] [tʃ]

[v] [f]

[z] [s]


Nasal and Glides







Much more interesting are what sounds are new.  The additional sounds and symbols we need for Italian are...

[ts] the sound in the word "pizza"

[dz] the voiced equivalent of [ts], this sound is heard in the word "mezzo-soprano"

[r] flipped r

[ɱ] this is an [n] made by touching the lips to teeth.

[ɲ] this sound is similar to ñ in Spanish.  It sounds (and kind of looks) like [nj]

[ʎ] often referred to as "sad walking man" by my students.  This closes equivalent in English is to say the word "million" while stopping on the "ll".

Since not many of us speak Italian fluently, we'll examine each sound individually.  Click on the applicable link for each category.  Remember, a good diction geek always has a trustworthy dictionary, complete with IPA.  If you're ever unsure, look it up.

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