Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Case of the Missing H in the Italian and English Word Cognates


The Case of the Missing H in the Italian and English Word Cognates

Introduction


This post is about English/Italian word pairs that have a common etymological origin (cognates) where in each pair the English word starts with the letter H and in Italian letter does not. For English speakers learning Italian, encountering these words in Italian can seem rather odd on first encounter.

Before jumping to the list, take a look at how the the letter H works in Italian and English.

Italian H


In the Italian alphabet, the letter H (spelled acca) has no phonetic (sound) value and its use in words serves only to modify the sound of other letters, in particular, in these cases:

  • With the verb avere (“to have”) in the present tense to avoid confusion with other common words.
    • ho (first person singular “I have”); without the H it could be confused with o, which is the conjunction “or”. 
    • hai (second person singular “you have”); without the H it could be confused with ai, which is the articulated preposition meaning “to the”, “with the”, etc.
    • ha (third person singular “he has”); without the H it could be confused with a, which is the simple preposition “a” meaning “to”, “at”, etc.
    • hanno (third person plural “they have”); without the H it could be confused with anno, which is the noun “year”.
  • To modify the letter pairs ch or gh and indicate that they should be pronounced as a hard C or G when followed by the letters E or I. 
    • gioco "game" (soft co as in the sound “cooperate”) and giochi (hard chi as in the sound “key”).
    • ago "needle" (soft go as in the sound "go") and aghi (hard ghi as in the sound "reggae").
  • Short interjections, where it has no sound value but helps avoid confusion with other words and or reinforces the emphatic nature of the interjection.
    • Examples include: Oh! – “Oh!”, Ehi! – “Hey!”, Beh! – “Well!”, Boh! – “I don’t know”, Toh! – “Oh!”, Ehm! – “Ahem! Um!”, Ahimè – "Alas! Dear me!", Ohimè – "Oh dear!"
The H not having a sound in Italian means that Italian mother tongue speakers speaking English often have some difficulty in knowing when and how to use an H. There is the often cited example when an Italian says what sounds like “I’m angry” when they mean “I’m hungry”, or vice versa. For every H under or over-corrected by an Italian speaking English, there is an English speaker (like us) not rolling Rs enough, clearly pronouncing double consonants, or getting the stressed syllable correct. For examples of the latter, see Italian Words with Tonic Stress on Third-From-Last Syllable: Le Parole Sdrucciole.

English H


In English, the letter H is either silent or a voiceless glottal fricative. The latter means that it is a wannabe consonant but not quite. Think of it as a breathy consonant. The letter H is spelled aitch or sometimes haitch, but using the second spelling might be considered a bit gauche and you might get labeled an h-adder. The question of the letter H is more complicated that I ever imagined in English.

  • Some English words borrowed from French like honest, hour and herb have a silent H. Others from French have come to have a pronounced H like horrible, hospital and humo(u)r.
  • In this post we are limiting ourselves to just talking about H starting a word. But what about if the letter H is in the middle of the word? Seems it can be silent (messiah, rhapsody, shepherd, exhaust) or voiced as well (behind, perhaps, behavior).
  • Have you ever stopped and wondered about whether to use “a” or “an” before a word that starts with the letter H? You are not alone! A history book or an history book? A historian’s view or an historian’s view?
    • Some advice suggests that you should use an indefinite article before a word starting with H if it has a vowel sound, regardless of how it is written. In this case, it would be “a history book” and “a historian’s view”.
    • Another reference (scroll down) suggests a more nuanced and correct approach – we believe – where you take in account where the stress is in the word. History is stressed on the syllable with the letter H while historian is stressed on the second syllable that doesn’t contain the H. In first case, the H is more pronounced and in the second case it is less pronounced and almost absent thereby almost equal to a word starting with a vowel sound. Taking this into consideration we would write “a history book” and “an historian’s view”. This sounds better to our ears.

Cognate List


This list is of Italian words (in italics) and their conjugates in English. The point to note is that many of the words are similar – or at least easy to puzzle out that they are referring to the same thing – but the English form has the letter H at the start of the word. In some of the cognates, it’s straightforward to pronounce the Italian word. An example is horrible mapping to orribile (but be careful to pronounce that last e in the Italian version). In other cognates, it gets a little trickier because spelling changes subtlety like an I becomes a Y. An example is hydrogen mapping to idrogeno.

In the following list of pairs, the Italian word is given first followed by the English word.

abituale – habitual, Ade – Hades, Adriano – Hadrian, adrone – hadron, agiografia – hagiography, alone – halo, armonia – harmony, azzardo – hazzard, egemone – hegemony , elio – helium, ematico - hematic, ematoma – hematoma, epatite – hepatitis, eridità – heredity, eroe - hero, esitare – to hesitate, euristico – heuristic , ibridazione – hybridation , idrogeno – hydrogen, iena – hyena, igrometro – hygrometer, imene – hymen, Ipazia – Hypatia, isteresi – hysteresis, isteria – hysteria, istologia – histology, olofrastico – holophrastic, lologramma – hologram, omelia – homily, Omero - Homer, omogeneo – homogeneous, omologazione – homogenization, ormone – hormone, orribile – horrible, ospedale – hospital, ospitalità – hospitality, umanesimo – humanism, Ungheria - Hungary

Many of these words have a third-from-last syllable stress. For more on that subject, see Italian Words with Tonic Stress on Third-From-Last Syllable: Le Parole Sdrucciole.

Exceptions


Life would not be interesting without exceptions. Some English words starting with HA, HE, HO, and HU don’t change in Italian and are used as is. However, they are still pronounced as if the H isn’t there. Try ordering a hamburger with a pronounced H sound and you’ll get a strange look. Words that don't drop the H include:

habitat, hacker, Haiti, haitianohamburger, handicap, happy hour, harakirihardware, Hawaii, Hegel, hegelianoHelsinki, henna, herpes, hippy, hi-fi, Himalaya, hinterland, hobby, hockey, homo sapiens, Honduras, hostess, hotel, humus

Some notes, many drawn from Grammatica italiana di base by Trifone and Palerma:

  • This list includes geographical names. But note that while Haiti and Honduras don’t drop the H in Italian, Hungary does and becomes Ungheria
  • The H is retained in Italian words derived from Latin such as habitat, herpes, and homo sapiens.
  • Italian words that have as their base a foreign starting with H keep the H in the derived word. Examples include hegeliano (from Hegel) and haitiano (from Haiti).
  • The retained H in the above list is a reminder to aspirate (burst of breath) the sound when pronouncing the word. The H is heard as more than an aspiration in only a few Italian words including harakiri and jihad.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Two Sounds of the Letter S in the Italian Language


The Two Sounds of the Letter S in the Italian Language

The letter S has two sounds in Italian. At first, when you study Italian, you don’t really notice it, but then after awhile you catch yourself pausing to stop and think about it. In short, S in Italian can sound like S in English or like Z in English. And as you would expect there are rules guiding pronunciation, and there are exceptions to those rules.

S as S


Italian words where the letter S is pronounced like an English S include:

sano, scatola, squardrare, disfare, rispetto, cassa, sasso, rosso, grosso, passo, pasto, abside, facsimile, falso, penso, Pepsi, orso, gas, borsa, denso, falso, sera, sale, cisterna, sfogliare, soggetto

This sound is referred to technically as a voiceless alveolar fricative (fricativa alveolare sorda in Italian) which indicates where the sound is made in the mouth. Fricatives are types of consonant sounds produced by forcing air through narrow channel. In this case, with the tip or blade of the tongue against the gum line just behind the teeth. The sound is denoted as /s/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

S as Z


Italian words where the letter S is pronounced like (or close to) an English Z include:

chiesa, casa, sgabello, sbaglio, sbavare, presentare, asma, scherzoso, tesi, crisi, battesimo, trentesimo, bisogno, esame, isola, slogan, smalto, snello, alpinismo, risvolto, esempio

This sound is referred to technically as a voiced alveolar fricative (fricative alveolare sonora in Italian). This sound is produced by “channeling air flow along a groove in the back of the tongue up to the place of articulation, at which point it is focused against the sharp edge of the nearly clenched teeth, causing high-frequency turbulence.” This sound is denoted as /z/ in the IPA.

A word showing both S sounds is scherzoso meaning "playful or humorous", which has - in order - one /s/ sound, one /ts/ sound (a true Z), and one /z/ sound. In IPA notation the pronunciation is /sker'tsozo/.

The Rules


These rules are a combination of rules given in the reference Grammatica italiana di base by Trifone and Palerma and those listed on the Italian Wikipedia page S sorda.

Pronounced /s/

  • Words that start with an S followed by a vowel. 
    • Examples: sera, sale, signora, soggetto, sei.
  • Words where the letter S is followed by unvoiced consonant. 
    • Examples: scatola, squadrare, disfare, rispetto, stentato, spendere, cisterna
    • Unvoiced consonants are /k/ (hard c or q), /f/, /p/, and /t/. 
  • Words where the letter S is preceded by any consonant. 
    • Examples: abside, facsimile, falso, penso, transitivo, Pepsi, orso
  • Words that end in S.
    • Examples: gas, ultras, iris.
    • But not always, note pronunciation of relais.
  • Words with SS. 
    • Examples: grosso, rosso, passo, fisso, commesso, asso.

Pronounced /z/

  • Words where the letter S is followed by a voiced consonant.
    • Examples: sbadigliare, sdoganare, sgrossare, alpinismo, snello, risvolto, slogan, sgabello
    • Voiced consonants are /b/, /d/, /g/ (or /dz/), /l/, /m/, /n/, and /v/ 
  • Technical words that end in -asi, -esi, -isi, or -osi.
    • Examples: protesi, tesi, crisi, sclerosi, enclisi
  • Words ending in -esimo and -esima.
    • Examples: battesimo, umanesimo, trentesimo, cresima, quaresima
  • Words where S is preceded and followed by a vowel (S between two vowels) are likely pronounced as /z/ but not always.
    • Examples: bisogno, esame, isola, chiesa, sole
    • For examples of the numerous exceptions, see below.

Exceptions – pronounced /s/ not /z/

  • Some enclitic (joined) words. 
    • Examples: affittasi, dicesi, qualsiasi, vendesi
    • Tangential note:  affittasi appartamento is equivalent to appartamento è affittato
  • Words that are formed from another word with a prefix added, or are otherwise composed.
    • Examples: antisovietico, dinosauro, presidente, risultare, presentire
    • Interesting case: ti presento – "I'll introduce you" – is pronounced with /z/ for the first person singular conjugation of the verb presentare. Compare that with  presento un pericolo – "I foresee danger" – pronounced with /s/ for the first person singular conjugation of the verb presentire, a verb composed of the prefix pre and the verb sentire.
  • Words that have an alternate version with a doubled S. 
    • Examples: musulmano (mussulmano), Albisola (Albissola
  • The endings of some irregular verbs conjugated in the passato remoto and in their past participles.
    • Examples: rendere (resi, rese, resero), scendere (scesi, scese, scesero), nascondere (nascosi, nascose, nascosero). 
  • Some common words and their derivatives that have an S preceded and followed by a vowel (S between two vowels) that are either always pronounced as /s/ or can be /s/ or /z/ depending on where the speaker is from. 
    • The sources consulted (given above) plus https://www.dizionario-italiano.it don’t always agree. Below, we’ll use the dizionario-italiano.it as our arbiter here. 
    • Derivatives of words in this category are subject to the same pronunciation.
      • Examples: socchiusi, sorriso, risotto 
    • As a rule of thumb, the words that can be either pronounced with /s/ or /z/ tend toward /z/ in northern Italy. (Don’t ask an Italian where northern Italy starts. Various answers we’ve heard are the Bolzano, the Po River, Florence, and Rome.)

Friday, January 4, 2019

Three Short Winter Hikes in Madonna di Campiglio


Mondifra Basso and AltoView east of the Brenta Dolomites from Malga Ritorto.
Left: View of Mondifrà Basso and Alto on the way to Malga Vagliana. Right: View east of the Brenta Dolomites from Malga Ritorto.

Hike: Malga Ritorto and Rifugio Nambino Rifugio Montagnoli Hike Malga Mondifrà and Malga Vagliana Hike
Routes for three walks. Left: Malga Ritorto and Rifugio Nambino, Center: Rifugio Montagnoli. Right: Malga Mondifrà and Malga Vagliana.

Madonna di Campiglio is a small town in the province of Trento that is situated between the Brenta Dolomites to the east and the Adamello-Presanella Alps to the west. The town is at 1522 m and is well known for the choice of summer and winter activities that are possible just walking out from the center of town.

We were there for a holiday over New Year’s which entailed lots of fireworks – and we mean a lot. The biggest display was on the night of the 1st just after the famous fiaccolata, a torchlight parade on skis where skiers with torches descend the slopes into town in a slow and serpentine fashion. Of course, it takes place at night for maximum effect.

During our stay we skied for four days and walked for three days. In terms of the slopes, we recorded about 213 km of ski movement (skiing and ski lifts) in about 20 hours on the slopes over the 4 days. In terms of walking, we hadn’t planned to do any walking and didn’t have microspikes/crampons or walking poles. For poles, we substituted ski poles. For traction, we just went slow and avoided icy spots though we fell a few times.

Each hike we started approximately at the base of the Pradalago lift, which is in the northern part of the town. Make sure to stop in the tourist office and pick up the Winter Walking Trails map (photos below), which will be a big help selecting a hike. A couple of times, we did cross a ski run or walked on the edge.


Name: Hike 1 - Malga Ritorto and Rifugio Nambino
Length: 13 km
Duration: 5 hours
Elevation: 247 m elevation gain
Location: Madonna di Campiglio (TN)
Type: loop, center of Madonna di Campiglio to Malga Ritorto to Rifugio Nambino and back to center.

Name: Hike 2 - Rifugio Montagnoli
Length: 4 km
Duration: 2 hours
Elevation: 284 m elevation gain
Location: Madonna di Campiglio (TN)
Type: loop

Name: Hike 3 - Malga Mondifrà and Malga Vagliana
Length: 10 km
Duration: 3 hours
Elevation: 309 m elevation gain
Location: Madonna di Campiglio (TN)
Type: loop, center of Madonna di Campiglio to Malga Mondifrà to Malga Vagliana and back to center

The 2019 fiaccolata of Madonna di Campiglio.Fireworks after the fiaccolata.View from the Grotte Ski Run just above Madonna di Campiglio.
Left: The 2019 fiaccolata of Madonna di Campiglio. Center: Fireworks after the fiaccolata. Right: View from the Grotte Ski Run just above Madonna di Campiglio.

Brochure for Rifugio Lago Nambino.Brochure for Rifugio Lago Nambino.
Brochure for Rifugio Lago Nambino.

Winter Hiking Trails Map (Escursioni sulla neve) for Madonna di Campiglio. Front Cover.Winter Hiking Trails Map (Escursioni sulla neve) for Madonna di Campiglio. Example of hike description.
Winter Hiking Trails Map (Escursioni sulla neve) for Madonna di Campiglio. Left: Front Cover. Right: Example of hike description to Lago di Nambino.

Recorded tracks for Hike 2 - Rifugio Montagnoli.Recorded tracks for Hike 3 - Malga Mondifrà and Malga Vagliana.Detail of center part of Winter Hiking Trails Map.
Left: Recorded tracks for Hike 2 - Rifugio Montagnoli. Center: Recorded tracks for Hike 3 - Malga Mondifrà and Malga Vagliana. Right: Detail of center part of Winter Hiking Trails Map.


Winter hiking trails map for Madonna di Campiglio.Winter hiking trails descriptions for Madonna di Campiglio.
Left: Winter hiking trails map for Madonna di Campiglio. Right: Winter hiking trails descriptions for Madonna di Campiglio. 


Left: Panorama in Malga Ritoro. Right: Below Malga Ritorto in a forest clearing.

View east from Rifugio Malga Ritorto with a man filming. Rifugio Malga Ritorto.
Left: View east from Rifugio Malga Ritorto with a man filming. Right: Rifugio Malga Ritorto.

The bridge a località Fortini.Pretending to ski on the Fortini ski run.
Left: The bridge a località Fortini. Right: Pretending to ski on the Fortini ski run.