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It appears that the pronunciation of 'z' at the beginning of a word is controlled by the subsequent consonant(s), that is, [ts] when followed by the aspirated [f], [k], [p], [t], and then [dz] when followed by the voiced [v], [g], [b], [d] and liquids [l], [m], [n], [r]. However, how do I understand the exceptions: [dz] for zafferano, zaffiro, zefiro, zeta, zippare, zitella, zotico, and [ts] for zangola, zanna, zimbello, zingaro? It does not appear to be related to open/closed vowels nor to accented/unaccented. Are these simply exceptions, along the line of the great argument on z/zz in the middle of the word (other posting)?

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    Note that, according to Dizionario d'ortografia e di pronuncia, some of these words admit both pronunciations: zitella, zangola, zimbello, zingaro. – Charo May 26 at 14:48
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    I suspect this is another thing that varies widely on a regional basis – Denis Nardin May 26 at 18:04
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    As an Italian, I must admit I didn't know about the rule about the pronunciation of “z” according to the following consonant (after a vowel, I presume). Where can I find more about it? – DaG May 26 at 21:07
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    @DaG: I have a book called Manuale di dizione e pronuncia, by Ughetta Lanari (I found it at an Italian airport), which gives this and other rules. But it's a quite short book, so there aren't many details. "The following consonant" refers to the first consonant of the second syllable. – Charo May 27 at 6:09
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    @egreg: It's an interesting book with comes with two CDs so you can hear the pronunciation. But it's extremely difficult to me to remember all these rules, I mean, rules of the kind of the ones that appear in the question. And I would say it's also quite difficult to find an Italian who really follows this "standard pronunciation". – Charo May 27 at 9:48

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