When I’m at a restaurant and I hear BROO∙sheda, FOKA∙sia, pra∙skew∙do, spug∙eddy, la∙TAY, EX∙preso or worst of all, GA∙noh∙chee.…I have to cover my ears. This post is my small effort to encourage everyone to get to know the beauty of the Italian language. Whether you are planning a trip to Italia, or to your local Trattoria, learning how to pronounce the words on the menu is worth the effort!
Italian pronunciation is very different from English. Pronouncing Italian words is easier than it looks, because every letter has a purpose. Words are pronounced phonetically-the way they are spelled. There are no silent letters as in English, except h at the beginning of a word. My name ‘Cristina’ has no h because there is no reason for it. In Italian, you won’t find crazy words like ‘enough’ that don’t sound at all like they are written (?inaf). If you know the sounds made by certain letters and combinations, you can pronounce all of those big long words with lots and lots of vowels. Pronouncing Italian correctly will also help with reading.
Note…. It isn’t easy to ‘speak’ with writing, and no written material can replace listening to and speaking Italian on site! This is a basic, practical introduction….just the facts! I’ve written the approximate pronunciations so that someone who speaks English can understand them.
2 important things to know:
- There are only 21 letters in the Italian alphabet. There is no j, k, w, x or y, except in foreign words. J is used in some dialetti (regional dialects) including Orsarese, and is pronounced like a y
- Emphasis is usually on the next to last syllable. If the emphasis is on the last syllable, the vowel at the end of the word has an accent. For example, tiramisù (teera∙ mee∙ SOO), ragù (ra ∙GOO) menù (meh∙NOO), supplì (soop∙PLEE), bignè (bee∙NYEH), tè (TEH), or caffè (caf∙FEH). This is very important to remember, as it is what gives the Italian language its musicality. If you pronounce everything the same, then the words will sound monotonous.
Accents/accenti are used:
- When emphasis is on the last syllable of a word as described above
- 1 syllable words with 2 vowels, as in può, più
- 1 syllable words that can have 2 meanings, as in te (you) or tè (tea), e (and) or è (is)
Unlike other languages, in Italian the accent is almost always l’accento grave (GRAH∙veh) sloping down towards the right as in à,è,ì,ò,ù. L’accento acuto, as in é and ó is not used often. We can safely say that 99% of the time, l’accento acuto is only used for sé, né and words ending in ché (perché, finché, giaché, etc). In all other cases, use the accento grave.
- • A is pronounced ah as in Mamma or amore (ah∙ MOH∙ reh)
• I is like the ee sound in green, as in piselli (pee∙ SEL∙ lee). Followed by a vowel, i can also sound like the y in yoga, as in ieri (YEH∙ree)
• U is like the u in June or the oo in food. Musica is moo∙SEE∙ca, nutella is noo∙TEL∙lah
- E has 2 slightly different pronunciations that are hard to express in writing, and also vary from region to region. For the purpose of pronouncing food, we will just say that e is pronounced eh like the e in egg. My favourite example is pepe (PEH∙peh). Many pronunciation guides make the mistake of stating that e makes the sound ‘ay’. This is not correct. Do not pronounce e this way unless you want to sound like Tony Soprano!
• O is oh like the o in no – calzone (cal∙ZOH∙neh) or the o in hot- cotto (COT∙toh). You may not know which sound the o makes unless you have heard the word spoken correctly, and there is also regional variation
Italian words are full of vowels and most words end in a vowel. If there are 2 or more vowels in a row, each one is pronounced. They may be in the same syllable, as in ciao (CHEEAH∙oh) and ieri (YEH∙ree). An awesome word with 4 vowels in a row is gioia (GEEOH∙yah)! Try saying that with a grumpy face!
C and G
• C and g are ‘duro’ or hard (as in corso or grande) – except if followed by an e or an i
• C or g followed by an e or i are ‘dolce’ or soft, like the ch in church and the g in gem
• If c or g are followed by an h and then an e or i, the pronunciation is hard once again
Ci = chee chi = kee
Ce = cheh che = ke (as in keg)
Gi = gee ghi = ghee
Ge = jeh (as in jelly) ghe =as in ghetto
Pesce (PEH∙sheh) = fish…pesca (PES∙kah) = peach…pesche (PES∙keh) = peaches. If you want succo di pesca/pesche (peach juice or nectar) but ask for succo di pesce, you are asking for fish juice. Yuk! Don’t make my Bellini with that!
• H is muta (MOO∙tah=silent).
• H is used to change the pronunciation of c and g (see above), or to distinguish 2 words that sound the same (anno/hanno, o/ho, a/ha)
• H is only used with c or g if followed by i or e, not if followed by u, a or o. Remember this handy rhyme: ‘cu ca co, acca no/gu ga go, acca no’
• Gn is ‘nyuh’ like the n and y in ‘can you’ if you say it quickly and nasally – try bagno (BAH∙nyo) and gnocchi (NYOK∙Kee). Gn sounds similar to the Spanish letter ñ as in señor and piñata. It should not sound like a hard g
• Gl is ‘lyah’ like the l and y in ‘will you’ said quickly. Gl is followed by ia or io as in foglia (FO∙lyah) or aglio (AHL∙yoh)
• Sce is sheh like the ‘she’ sound in shelter… pesce = PEH∙sheh
• Sci is shee as in prosciutto (pro∙SHEEOOT∙toh)
• Sb is zb as in sbottonata (zbot∙toh∙NAH∙tah) = unbuttoned, sbriciolata (zbree∙cheeoh∙LA∙tah) = crumbled
R’s are rrrolled. T’s sound like T, not like D.
Double consonants are both pronounced. You need to hold the sound for an extra fraction of a second. Take cappuccino for example. You pronounce 2 p’s and 2 c’s. It’s cap∙ pooch ∙CHEE ∙no, not cap∙a∙chee∙no.
Double r’s are rrreally rrrolled as in burrata (boor∙RAT∙ah)
Pronouncing double consonants as single can change the meaning of the word and can even lead to embarassing situations. For example, if you want to order penne (PEN∙neh) al pomodoro, but you ask for pene (PE∙neh) al pomodoro, you have just ordered penis in tomato sauce!
Unlike English and Spanish, adding an s to the end of an Italian word doesn’t make it plural. In Italian, everything has a gender.
- Masculine things usually end in an o and are plural with an i
- Feminine things usually end in a and are plural with an e
Biscotto (bee∙SCOT∙toh) is singular, biscotti (bee∙SCOT∙tee) is plural. Do not ask for a biscotti. You ask for 1 biscotto or 2 biscotti.
The plural of birra (beer) is birre, so it’s una birra (BEE∙rah) or due birre (BEE∙reh)
Panino is singular, panini is plural. Since panini is already plural, ‘paninis’ is ‘sandwicheses’! It sounds just as silly in Italian!
Some foods have been given a sex change in North America. Remember that zucchine, fettucine and linguine are all female and do not end in i
- Things ending in e, whether masculine or feminine, are plural with an i. For example, a glass is un bicchiere, 2 glasses are due bicchieri (beek∙KYEH∙ree), un salame, due salami
- Things ending in io become plural with i. Kiss is bacio (BAH∙cheeoh), many kisses are baci (BAH∙chee)
Some words don’t change when plural:
- Words that are abbreviations like auto and euro (eeoo∙roh)
- Imported words like computer and taxi. These are usually masculine
- one syllable words
- Words that end in a consonant or an accented vowel (il caffè/i caffè)
There are exceptions to these. For example egg-l’uovo (oo∙oh∙voh) is masculine, but the plural is the feminine le uova (oo∙oh∙vah)-not ‘uovi’. Il dentista, il programma and il problema are masculine, but end in a because they come from the Greek, ending in ‘ma’ or ‘ta’. Sometimes the exception is simply because it sounds awkward.
Using the wrong vowel at the end can completely change the meaning of a word. For example, if you want to order agnello alla menta (lamb cooked with mint) but you ask for agnello al mento (lamb with chin) I’m not sure which body part will be brought to your table!
Now you are ready to read the menu at Trattoria ‘Un po’ di pepe’……. Buon appetito!
This post is available as a downloadable PDF at the end of the menu. Ebook coming soon!
Il menù Trattoria Un po’ di pepe:
Focaccia Genovese (foh∙KACH∙cheeah Jen∙oh∙VEH∙seh)•Genoa style focaccia
Mozzarella di bufala Campana (motz∙za∙REL∙la dee BOO∙fa∙lah Cam·PAH·nah)•Fresh mozzarella from the region of Campania, made with milk from water buffalo
Prosciutto e melone (pro∙sheeoot∙toh e meh∙LOH∙neh)•Prosciutto wrapped around slices of canteloupe
Gnocchi al pomodoro (NYOK∙kee ahl poh∙moh∙DOH∙roh)•Gnocchi in a tomato sauce
Tagliatelle al cinghiale (ta∙lyah∙TEL∙leh ahl ceen∙ghee∙AH∙leh)•tagliatelle (ribbon-like egg pasta) with wild boar sauce
Penne all’arrabbiata (PEN∙neh ahl ar∙rab∙BYAT∙tah)•Penne in an ‘angry’ spicy sauce
Orecchiette con cime di rapa (oh∙rek∙KYET∙the con CHEE∙meh dee RAH∙pah)•Orecchiette (Pugliese pasta shaped like little ears) with rapini
Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino (spah∙GET∙tee AHL∙yoh ohl∙yo eh peh∙peh∙ron∙CHEE∙noh)•Spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chili pepper
Risotto ai frutti di mare (ree∙SOT∙toh ahee frut∙tee dee MAH∙reh)•Seafood risotto
Pesce spada con salsa di acciughe (peh∙sheh spa∙da con sal∙sa dee ach∙chee∙OO∙geh)•Swordfish with anchovy sauce
Polpette della nonna (pohl∙PET∙teh del∙la NON∙nah)•Nonna’s meatballs
Coniglio arrosto con patate (coh∙NEE∙lyoh ar∙ROS∙toh con pah∙TAH∙teh)•Roast rabbit with potatoes
Melanzane ripiene al forno (meh∙lan∙ZAH∙neh ree∙PYEH∙neh)•Baked stuffed eggplant
Crostata con Nutella, mascarpone e pere (cro∙STA∙tah con noo∙TEL∙la, mas∙car∙POH∙neh e PEH∙reh)•Nutella, mascarpone and pear tart
Panettone con mandorle (pah∙net∙TOH∙neh con man∙DOR∙leh)•Panettone (sweet bread) with almonds
Zabaglione (zah∙bah∙LYOH∙neh)•A custard type of dessert made with egg yolks, sugar and marsala
Italiano per Ristoranti Downloadable PDF ©2016 unpodipepe.ca