A native-like accents requires the speaker to:

  • Pronounce individual words correctly 
  • Observe the rhythm of the language and alter single word pronunciation to fit sentence stress (dynamics of language).

An example of phonetic analysis in Italian

How do we carry out phonetic analysis? 

– Repeated and intense listening 
– Reading  
– Using special markers

Italian has two important phonetic features:

– Main stress
– Sentence stress

In Italian the main stress is on the individual accented syllable of a word. The voice falls on this syllable and literally stops for a micro-second: This is why Italian sounds musical to non-native Italian speakers.  As said in part 2/3, the fourth tone of Mandarin Chinese can be used to describe the main stress: à, è, ì, ò ,ù. The (corresponding marker is) [ ` ].

càsa                 cantàre             caffè

The main stress can be anywhere within a word: on the first, second, third or final syllable.

The syllable or syllables preceding the main stress are generally pronounced with a high tone (similar to the first tone in Chinese): The marker is [ ¯ ]

cāntàre            cāffè

Subsequent syllables after the main stress have a low tone, and  no marker is put on them (similar to the neutral tone in Chinese).

àncora > àn-co-ra (main stress – neutral tone – neutral tone)

āncòra > ān-cò-ra (high tone– main stress – neutral tone)

città >  cīt-tà (high tone – main stress)

The main stress is determined by certain accented words in a sentence.  This can affect the stress and pronunciation of vowels in surrounding words. In the following examples, I will underline the word in question:

Com’è buono questo caffè! >  Cōm’ē buòno quēstō cāffè!

Che persona simpatica! >  Chē pērsōnā sīmpàtica

Mi piacerebbe tanto tornare in Italia. >  Mī piacērēbbē tànto tōrnārē īn Itàlia

The sentence stress falls on buòno because the speaker wants to emphasize the quality of the coffee. The same is true in the second example: the main sentence stress falls on the syllable “” of “sīmpàtica” because the speaker wants to emphasize the quality of the person.

Aggregation of words and micro-pauses

Articles, adjectives and particles are minor and shorter segments that are assimilated to the other more important words. This is commonly done in Italian and we call it aggregation of words.  As a result words are aggregated into blocks.  This plays a pivotal rule in the way tones are used in a sentence. I will use a short underscore to highlight this [ _ ]:

Let consider again the 3 sentences:

The 3 words “che”, “persona” and “simpatico” as single words are pronounced as if they were a single word: chē_pērsōnā_ sīmpàtica. This influences the syllables of all of the words. In the third and final example, the voice falls on two places: on the quantity of the desire and on the desired destination of the speaker. This influences, once again, all of the other syllables (the voice pattern: up-up-up-up-down up-up-up-up-down)

Cōm’ē_ buòno quēstō_cāffè!

Che persona simpatica! >  Chē_pērsōnā_ sīmpàtica

Mi piacerebbe tanto tornare in Italia. >  Mī_piacērēbbē_ tànto tōrnārē_īn_ Itàlia

 

Groups of words are separated by micro-pauses.  They are useful to give the Italian sentence an authentic rhythm. Unless they are clearly marked (by , or ;), these micro-pauses are represented by the following marker: [//]

Mio padre si chiama Davide e conosce un sacco di cose è Mio padre // si chiama Davide // e conosce un sacco di cose

Double consonants

The double consonants are a significant feature of the Italian language.  They change the configuration of the vowel that precedes them.  I will indicate them in the following sentences with a tick [✓]:

Example:

Polo  >  Pò-lo (dust)

Pollo >  Pol-lo (chicken)

In the word “polo”, the main stress falls on “o”, pronounced as an open “o” vowel.   This “o” is pronounced longer than the “o” in chicken (pollo).  The “o” in chicken is closed and pronounced more quickly.  This gives “strength” to the double consonant.

Special punctuation marks

It is also important to pay attention to the question and exclamation marks:   

? produces an ascending/rising tone, like that used in the 2nd tone in Mandarin Chinese.  I will represent this with an diagonally upwards pointing arrow:

Che_cōsa_hāi_ fatto oggi?

! produces a brusque downwards stress in the sentence/word, similar to the discending/fall tone 4th tone in Mandarin.  I will represent this with a diagonally-downward pointing arrow:

Vādō_ā_cāsā_di_ Lucìa  (sentence with neutral intonaation)

Che bella giornata! >  Chē_bēllā_ giōrnàta! (Sentence with falling intonation)
 

PHONETICANALYSIS

Let us consider a whole text in Italian.

Il pasto di metà giornata, si chiama pranzo. In Italia, è generalmente il pasto più importante della giornata, anche se occorre registrare una recente variazione della consuetudine, soprattutto nelle grandi città, che, per esigenze di lavoro, hanno trasformato il pranzo in un leggero spuntino consumato fuori casa.

 

Nella sua forma tradizionale, il pranzo comprende più portate: un primo piatto, di solito pasta, un secondo piatto, maggiormente carne, e un contorno di verdure o patate, seguito da un dessert o frutta.

 YouTube Preview Image

 

Il_pāstō_dī_mētā_giornàta //si_chiāmā_prànzo. In_Itàlia, è_gēnērālmente il_pāstō piū_importānte della_giornàta,//

anchē_sē_ōccōrrē_registràre //ūnā_rēcēntē_vāriāzione_dēllā_consuetùdine, //sōprattūttō_nēllē_grāndī_cīttà,chè//pēr_esigēnzē_dī_lāvòro,//

hānnō_trāsfōrmātō_il_prànzo// in_ūn lēggēro_spūntìno // consūmātō_fuori_càsa.

Nēlla_suā_fōrmā_trādīziōnàle,//il_prànzo//cōmprēndē_più_portàte:un_primō_piàtto,//

di_solitō_pàsta,//un_secōndō_piàtto,//maggiormēntē_càrne,//

ē_un_cōntōrnō_dī_vērdurē_ō_pātàte, //seguito_da _un_dessèrt //o frùtta.

This is the same text analyzed on paper.  You could also do the analysis on a computer.  I find that writing directly on paper with a pen or pencil is easier.  It makes the process more enjoyable and memorable:

 

 

Conclusion: the main goal of the phonetic analysis

The text analysis takes time to complete.  However, once done, you will have invested quality language study time listening to the same text repeatedly.  This process gives you an insight into the workings of the pronunciation and natural reproduction of the language through detailed study.    This analysis can be applied to any language.  It is key to learn single word and sentence stress pronunciation to get a native-like accent.  After that, it is simply a question of practice!

This article was written by Luca Lampariello in collaboration with Richard Simcott

 

Related posts in this series

– Native accent in language learning – 1/3

– Native accent in language learning – 2/3

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