Saturday, March 16, 2013

Debunking Language Stereotypes: Italian

On our mission to clear up some misconceptions when it comes to languages, we've already debunked the myths behind English and French. We're progressing nicely through all the languages which are considered the "important" European languages, EFIGS, and have now reached Italian.

Italians are probably sick to death of "it's a me, Mario!", and who can blame them? In English, the letter "i" is often /ɪ / (as in sit) whereas in Italian, the letter is pronounced /i/, (as in seat). This issue is not exclusive to Italian as the / sound is not often found in Romance languages.

Pizza al taglio, a Roman specialty meaning "pizza by the slice".
Italian does not feature the same sound for the letter "r" either. In Italian the letter is often trilled or rolled, and thus does not resemble English pronunciation. This problem with the English letter "r" also occurred when debunking French language stereotypes.

Another shared problem with French is the "th" sound, as in think. This can cause problems for native speakers of Italian due to an absence of the phoneme in their mother tongue.

An advert for Dolmio in the UK featured a stereotypical Italian accent, complete with puppets and the tag line "When'sa your Dolmio day". This "sa" that is often put on the end of words when impersonating Italian is due to the stress patterns of the language. In English, stress often occurs towards the beginning of words, either the first or second syllable. In Italian, stress tends to occur on the penultimate syllable, giving Italian its melodic and almost musical delivery.

Next time you're thinking of impersonating the Italian accent, remember why it's the way it is!