Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Comparison of Tuscan and Standard Italian

The Tuscan dialect of Italian, spoken by about 3.5 million people, is considered the basis of Standard Italian. Florence is one of the cities in which it is spoken. Famous writers such as Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in the literary version of Tuscan. However, Tuscan exhibits certain differences from the standard language. A number of these differences are phonological.

The soft c and g weaken in Tuscan. In other words, the affricates of standard Italian are pronounced as fricatives. This process is known as deaffrication. For example, in the phrase "la gente" (the people) the g of "gente" is pronounced with the voiced alveopalatal fricative of "genre" and not the voiced alveopalatal affricate of "gentle". This also occurs with the voiceless alveopalatal affricate in "la cena" (the dinner). The c of "cena" is pronounced with the voiceless alveopalatal fricative of "shoe".

The process of affrication also occurs. The voiceless alveolar fricative /s/ is pronounced as an affricate /ts/ when it is preceded by an /r/, /l/ or /n/. For example, in "il sole" (the sun), "sole" is pronounced [tsole]. This also occurs word-internally. For example, "falso" (false) is pronounced [faltso].

Many words which have the diphthong "uo" in standard Italian are pronounced with the monophthong "o". For example, "buono" (good) and "nuovo" (new) are pronounced "bono" and "novo".

Perhaps the most famous feature of Tuscan is the weakening of intervocalic voiceless plosives. The voiceless velar plosive becomes a voiceless glottal fricative, the voiceless dental or alveolar plosive becomes a voiceless interdental fricative and the voiceless bilabial plosive becomes a voiceless bilabial fricative. This is often called the Tuscan gorgia which means the Tuscan throat.

The word "giuoco" (game) is pronouced with a glottal fricative before the final syllable. This change of a plosive into a fricative between two vowels is an example of weakening or lenition and can also be called spirantization. However, this change can also occur word initially if the preceding word ends in a vowel. For example, "la casa" (the house) is pronounced [la haza]. The voiceless alveolar fricative voices intervocalically.

Further examples of this weakening occur in "lupo" (wolf) and "muto" (mute). In "lupo" the "p" is pronounced as a voiceless bilabial fricative (this fricative also occurs in Japanese) and in "muto" the "t" is pronounced as a voiceless interdental fricative as in "thin".

The Tuscan dialect is a well-known dialect of Italian which formed the basis of the standard language. Nevertheless, a number of phonological differences differentiate it from Standard Italian. One of these is the process in which voiceless plosives weaken, a phenomenon often referred to as the Italian gorgia or Italian throat.

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