Italian phonology

The phonology of Italian describes the sound system—the phonology and phonetics—of Standard Italian and its geographical variants.

Consonants

Consonant phonemes
Labial Dental/
Alveolar
Palatal Velar
Nasal m n   ɲ
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Affricate t͡s d͡z t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
Fricative f v s z ʃ
Approximant   j w
Lateral l   ʎ
Trill r

Notes:

  • Between two vowels, or between a vowel and an approximant or a liquid (/l, r, j, w/), consonants can be both singleton or geminated. Geminated consonants shorten the preceding vowel (or block phonetic lengthening) and the first geminated element is unreleased. For example, compare /fato/ [ˈfaːto] ('fate') with /fatto/ [ˈfatto] ('fact'). However, /ɲɲ/, /ʃʃ/, /ʎʎ/, are always geminated word-internally.[1] Similarly, nasals, liquids, and sibilants are pronounced slightly longer in medial consonant clusters.[2]
  • /j/, /w/, and /z/ are the only consonants that cannot be geminated.
  • /t, d/ are laminal denti-alveolar [, ],[3][4][5] commonly called "dental" for simplicity.
  • /k, ɡ/ are pre-velar before /i, e, ɛ, j/.[4]
  • /t͡s, d͡z, s, z/ have two variants:
    • Dentalized laminal alveolar [t̪͡s̪, d̪͡z̪, , ][3][6] (commonly called "dental" for simplicity), pronounced with the blade of the tongue very close to the upper front teeth, with the tip of the tongue resting behind lower front teeth.[6]
    • Non-retracted apical alveolar [t͡s̺, d͡z̺, , ].[6] The stop components of the "apical" affricates is actually laminal denti-alveolar.[6]
  • /n, l, r/ are apical alveolar [, , ] in most environments.[3][5][7] The first two are pronounced as laminal denti-alveolar [, ] before /t, d, t͡s, d͡z, s, z/[5][8][9] and palatalized laminal postalveolar [n̠ʲ, l̠ʲ] before /t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ ʃ/.[10][11] /n/ has a velar allophone [ŋ] before /k, ɡ/.[12][13]
  • /m/ and /n/ do not contrast before /p, b/ and /f, v/, where they are pronounced [m] and [ɱ], respectively.[12][14]
  • In a large number of accents, /ʎ/ is a fricative [ʎ̝].[15]
  • Some accents from central Italy[which?] do not have the /ʎ/ sound; instead, it is pronounced as [j], or, sometimes, [ʝ].
  • /r/ can be realised as a tap [ɾ] intervocalically.[16][17] [ɾ] can also occur elsewhere, particularly in unstressed syllables.[18]
  • The distinction between [s] and [z] is neutralized before consonants and at the beginning of words: the former is used before voiceless consonants and before vowels at the beginning of words; the latter is used before voiced consonants (meaning [z] is an allophone of /s/ before voiced consonants). It can only contrast between two vowels within a word. According to Canepari,[17] though, the traditional standard has been replaced by a modern neutral pronunciation which always prefers /z/ when intervocalic, except when the intervocalic s is the initial sound of a word, if the compound is still felt as such: for example, presento /preˈsɛnto/[19] ('I foresee', with pre meaning 'before' and sento meaning 'I see') vs presento /preˈzɛnto/[20] ('I present'). There are many words in which dictionaries now indicate that both pronunciations with /z/ and with /s/ are acceptable. The two phonemes have merged in many regional varieties of Italian, either into /z/ (Northern-Central) or /s/ (Southern-Central).