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I was reading about where to place Italian stress and how to pronounce ci & gi. On this site

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_orthography#C_and_G

there's a paragraph that says the following: in camicia the first i is stressed thus -cia is pronounced /tʃa/. That is confusing me because the stress is not on the final a so applying what I just read I thought i in ci should be stressed & that is incorrect... put another way the second to last syllables stressed and no other vowels are therefore ci is /tʃ/.

As for this other example farmacia there is no grave marker on the final a and I just suppose the stress is on the second to last syllable which means the second a would be stressed - however if none of the other vowels are supposed to be stressed except for one then why does the i get pronounced as /i/?

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  • Welcome to Italian.SE! – Charo Jan 3 at 7:52
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    Notice that in both words the stress is on the second to last syllable. In the first case it's -mi- (and the whole word has 3 syllables), while in the second case it's -ci- (and the whole word has 4 syllables). – DaG Jan 3 at 10:35
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In Italian there are no hard and fast rules about stress. Even native speakers sometimes (often?) get it wrong on unfamiliar words. The only way to find the correct position of the stress of any given word is to consult a dictionary. Let's do it together for the words that confuse you. I will use the Vocabolario Treccani, as it is free online and quite good.

In the case of camicia the Vocabolario gives us camìcia. This indicates that the stress is on the second syllable, in particular the digraph cia (which carries no stress) represents the sound /tʃa/. On the whole the complete pronunciation of the word is /ka'mitʃa/.

In the case of farmacia the Vocabolario gives us farmacìa. Note that now the stress is on the i: this implies that the digraph ci is not pronounced as the single consonant /tʃ/, but as the syllable /tʃi/. On the whole the pronunciation is /farma'tʃia/.

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The letter “i” has a dual usage in Italian orthography. It can represent the vowel /i/ (filo or idea) or the consonant /j/ (ieri or febbraio), but it can also a pure orthographic device to indicate the pronunciation of a preceding c or g letter as /tʃ/ or /dʒ/.

The consonant /j/ is always represented by i in current Italian, so we could well say the letter has a three-pronged usage. In the past one could find j representing /j/, the usage only survives in some toponyms or surnames and a few reimported latinisms such as junior and similar.

In the second case it is not pronounced at all. For instance

anca is pronounced /'an.ka/ (hip)
ancia is pronounced /'an.tʃa/ (reed)

However, this poses some problems because the tonic accent position is not generally marked in Italian orthography. A non minimal pair that could be tough for beginners is

maga /'ma.ga/ (sorceress)
magia /ma.'dʒi.a/ (magic, enchantment)

The second word has three syllables and the tonic accent is on the vowel [i]. How do I know? Because I know Italian! There's no hint from the orthography that can help to guess the right pronunciation.

Even the plural form doesn't help! The plural of camicia is spelled camicie, just like the plural of farmacia is farmacie. But camicie has three syllables, and farmacie still is four syllables /far.ma.'tʃi.e/.

In other cases it can help, because the plural of maga is maghe (the h keeps the /g/ pronunciation) and the plural of magia is magie.

One might say that in farmacia and magia the i has both functions active: vowel marker and “softener marker” for c or g. Unfortunately, the orthographic conventions of Italian don't help in correctly placing the tonic accent.

Only the dictionary can help, I'm afraid. Other examples:

bigia /'bi.dʒa/ (ash grey [feminine adjective])
bugia /bu.'dʒi.a/ (lie)

Belgio /'bel.dʒo/ (Belgium)
nostalgia /nos.tal.'dʒi.a/ (nostalgia, homesickness)

vocio /vo.'tʃi.o/ (clamour), with plural vocii (yes, with two i’s)

regia /'re.dʒa/ (royal [feminine adjective])
regia /re.'dʒi.a/ (direction [films or stage])

The last two words are written the same way, but pronounced very differently (thanks to DaG for mentioning them). There is also the pair of names

Lucio /'lu.tʃo/ [masculine]
Lucia /lu.'tʃi.a/ [feminine]

Both names come from Latin lux, but for some reasons the accent has been moved in the feminine version.

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    There are even rare cases where the same spelling denotes two different words with different pronunciation and meaning. For instance, regia: when pronounced /re.'dʒi.a/ it means “direction” (of plays and films), while /'rɛ.dʒa/ is the feminine form of regio, “royal”. – DaG Jan 4 at 0:30
  • @DaG Thanks for the addition! I'll add it. – egreg Jan 4 at 10:05
  • "The consonant /j/ is always represented by i in Italian". I would not say "always"; there are exceptions, in particular when the semi-consonant sound is at the beginning of the word, as in "mar Jonio" (but "mar Ionio" is correct too), or the word is a latinism, as in "campionato juniores" or "Juventus" (in wich cases the "j" should not be replaced by an "i"). – secan Jan 20 at 10:53
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    @secan These are rare exceptions. I'll add some words. – egreg Jan 20 at 10:58
  • @egreg, sure, I was not implying they are widespread; my intent was just to point out there are few exceptions, for the sake of completeness. ;) – secan Jan 20 at 11:00

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