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As a native Spanish speaker, I'm having trouble with the use of the acute accent. As far as I'm concerned, the acute accent ´ can only be used over the letter e in a few cases (perché, ventitré...), but while reading the book 'La bella estate' written by Cesare Pavese I have seen it being used over the letter i (cosí, finí, salí...).enter image description here Why is this? Could the reason for this orthographic rule be due to differences in regional pronunciations, or is there some other reason?

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    Welcome to Italian.SE! Related question: italian.stackexchange.com/q/2343 (duplicate?).
    – Charo
    Jan 17 at 14:03
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    The current answers are correct in general terms, but the actual answer is that you are reading a book published by Einaudi, and Einaudi has the quirk of using acute accents on u and i.
    – DaG
    Jan 17 at 17:32

2 Answers 2

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Only the vowels e and o can be pronounced in two ways, that is "aperta" (grave accent, è, ò) and "chiusa" (acute accent, é, ó).

For the other vowels a, i, and u, there is not such a distinction.

EDITED: In this context, they are neither "aperte" nor "chiuse". The use of the grave accent is not a rule, it's just conventional.

That's why in a few grammar books or books like the one you are reading you'll find acute accent on i or u. It seems that the autors feel important to distinguish how those two vowels are articulated compared to the other vowels. Other people, since there is no other way to pronounce a, i and u, do not see the need to mix the rules of Italian language accent with concepts related to universal phonetics. Besides, the acute accent is not even universally related to close or high vowels. END OF EDIT.

For details, please see on this same site the answers to this question.

About a and/or i and/or u closed or open

From La grammatica italiana (emphasis added):

Nel caso in cui la vocale finale sia a, i, u, l’accento è per convenzione sempre grave, anche se la pronuncia non è né aperta, né chiusa

From Enciclopedia dell'Italiano (emphasis added):

Secondo la norma più diffusa nelle grammatiche, in italiano l’accento grave si pone sulle vocali la cui pronuncia non si distingue in aperta o chiusa (a, i, u) e sulle varianti aperte della e /ɛ/ e della o /ɔ/, mentre l’accento acuto (′) si pone sulle varianti chiuse delle vocali toniche e /e/ e o /o/.

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  • Right, but Italian u and i are indeed closed, even if, since no open counterpart is present in Standard Italian, it's hard to see. In some dialects such counterparts are present: for instance in Sicilian I. Italia pronounced by a Sicilian has open is, such that to a Centre-Northern Italian, it almost sound as Etàlea.
    – DaG
    Jan 17 at 17:35
  • @DaG Please see the quotations just added. Jan 17 at 18:04
  • Yes, of course in Italian there is a single pronunciation for i and a single one for u, but this pronunciations have a precise location on the vowel diagram (see the other answer), and it corresponds to closed sounds (the uppermost part of the trapezoid). You may check where /i/ and /u/ are in the diagram here.
    – DaG
    Jan 17 at 18:56
  • @DaG Good, so you see why Treccani say "la pronuncia non è né aperta, né chiusa" and I say 'They are neither "aperte" nor "chiuse"'. A, i, and u, in Italian, are just a, i, and u, whatever accent you put on them. Jan 17 at 20:18
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    Giuseppe, evidentemente non sono stato chiaro. Ti stavo solo spiegando che non è corretto dire in assoluto che non sono né aperte né chiuse. Ogni suono vocalico ha un suo posto ben preciso nel trapezio delle vocali. Poi, visto che in italiano si usano solo i suoni chiusi, non li si considera tali, e va benissimo, ma non possiamo ignorare la fonetica, che è una disciplina quantitativa, basata sulle frequenze delle formanti dei suoni, non su considerazioni generali.
    – DaG
    Jan 17 at 21:37
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The diagram for Italian vowels is the following:

vowels

Formally, the "i" and "u" vowels are closed, so their correct accent should be acute (í, ú).

Accents of oxytone words were traditionally written with a grave accent in ancient italian, but there is some extent of inconsistency in literature about grammar (including dictionaries).

What also matters is that, while there are very few cases of confusion between same words with different accents ("bòtte" as plural of "botta", a hit, while "bótte" means barrel, "pèsca" as in peach, "pésca" as in fishing) and meaning is usually clear from the context[1], Italian grammar still requests to differentiate between words ending with è ("caffè") and é ("perché"), so it's usually requested that oxytones only differentiate the "e" in those cases, while all other vowels use the grave accent.

The current, accepted and common practice also uses grave accents mostly due to the standard Italian keyboard layout, which doesn't provide easy access to acute accents for A, I, O and U[2], and was probably introduced in typewriters using the tradition described above, even if it doesn't properly match the phonetic of those vowels. As you can see, this old Olivetti model uses the grave accent for those letters and only provide difference for the E:

old Olivetti typewriter

So, while the common grave accent is the accepted standard, using the acute one is not only also acceptable, but formally more correct.

References:

[1] Since "bótte" is singular and "bòtte" plural, the article and verb usually clarifies the meaning, while both "pésca" and "pèsca" are singular, so a better writing would use the accent.
[2] Each OS provides different methods of typing extended characters. Linux is probably the first that introduced them in localized layouts using keyboard composition; the acute accent can be achieved with AltGr+,, followed by the letter.

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  • macOS (Macintosh System) predates Linux and dead keys have been present since System 1. But the method didn't originate with the Macintosh: German typewriters had dead keys for the umlaut, for instance.
    – egreg
    Jan 17 at 22:26
  • @egreg You're right, I was going to write that it was (probably) the first to easily allow that in the italian localized layout, but I was in a hurry and forgot to rephrase that. It's also likely that it was there since Unix based systems. Btw, are you sure that it was already there for System 1? AFAIK that system didn't even have a localization (or a keyboard layout configuration). Jan 17 at 23:47
  • Perhaps not System 1, but I started using a Macintosh in 1985 and it already featured dead keys for accented letters. Maybe System 3 for the Macintosh Plus, but…
    – egreg
    Jan 18 at 0:10

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