13

I've always heard both of the words "pésca", fishing, and "pèsca", peach, both pronounced as "pésca". Obviously here the accent mark can used to distinguish between the two words although this is not usually needed. However, is there any other way to pronounce this pair of word, perhaps, either mimicking the accents in their spellings exactly, or, perhaps, even pronouncing both words in the exact opposite way as "pèsca"?


ASIDE: I once had a teacher whose Italian was a bit different from that of most of the kids in school. So, when kids wouldn't understand, she would say:

  • "Non riesco proprio a capire perché non sentite la differenza tra 'è' e 'e'!",

literally, "I really can't understand why you cannot hear the difference between 'is' and 'and'!), but she would pronounce this sentence as follows (notice the last bit of the sentence):

  • "Non riesco proprio a capire perché non sentite la differenza tra é é é!"

So, of course, upon hearing this, all the kids would burst out laughing.

What I still haven't been able to figure out is whether she would say this because she may have come from a place in Italy where all e's are pronounced the same way (where could this be, anyone know?), as closed e's, or whether she might have had a voice defect, but even then, how can one have a voice defect that prevents them from pronouncing open "è"? From a phonological point of view, isn't opening your mouth a bit wider everything that's required to produce such sound, I can understand people that may have a lisp or not be able to pronounce a rolling r, which I think is perfectly normal, but what about this case? Who knows, perhaps I'm just the typical "ignorante"!

  • 6
    They should be pronounced differently. Those are two different sounds. I'd suggest the use of: dizionario.rai.it. If you lookup both the words and hear the pronunciations you'll see they're supposed to be different. The difference doesn't lie in opening your mouth more or less, it's a difference in the position of the tongue. – entropid Jan 21 '15 at 8:19
  • 5
    It's the opposite: "pésca" is fishing, "pèsca" is the fruit. The accent isn't normally written (though it certainly can) because it's usually clear from the context which one is meant. – persson Jan 21 '15 at 9:04
  • 6
    “Official” Italian pronunciation for the fruit is pèsca, but hearing it in my region is very rare and I normally say pésca also for the fruit. On the other hand, my ears suffer when somebody says Venézia. Regional differences. – egreg Jan 21 '15 at 12:07
  • 3
    @JohnSonderson I can't play the audio from the website as I'm from a mobile device, but I remember it to be pretty consistent. I'll check it out. Anyway it's a difference in the position of the tongue closer or farther from the roof of the mouth, so I guess that anyone can easily do it. The only thing is that the “openness” of some vowels (e, o) in Italian can be very regional. This is probably why you have never heard them pronounced correctly. As an example, in Northern Italy is quite common to hear “perché” pronounced “perchè” (like “cioè”). – entropid Jan 21 '15 at 12:44
  • 2
    The pronunciations in RAI website are correct, indeed. John, if you have difficulty in distinguishing the open “e”s, perhaps contrasting it with the audio file for pésca may help. If anything, the first pèsca is very (too?) “open” with respect to the other two, but all are open. – DaG Jan 21 '15 at 12:50
10

I personally pronounce "pésca" and "pèsca" in the same way. In most cases, the difference is understood from the context, not from the accent. The accent may vary from region to region: in Veneto, the closed "e" is the most used, while in Lombardia people use open "e" more often.

So, quite nobody in Italy pays attention to this pronunciation difference while they're speaking: everyone pronounces the word according to where he lives. Nevertheless you should prefer the closed pronunciation (pésca) to the opened one.

Another example of the same scenario could be "vènti" (winds) and "vénti" (twenty); like I said above, the difference is understood from the context:

  1. La bora e il maestrale sono dei vènti che soffiano da Nord a Sud.
  2. Vénti giorni fa mi sono laureato.

"Bora" and "Maestrale" are both winds, so it's clear we're talking about these, but we pronounce these two sentences in the same way!

Hope this helps!

| improve this answer | |
  • 11
    Just to clarify to non-Italians: while it may well be the case that «quite nobody in Italy pays attention to this pronunciation difference», in some parts of Italy (especially Tuscany, and at least in part in Rome and other regions of central Italy--hence the saying «lingua toscana in bocca romana» to describe a putative linguistic model) people do spontaneously speak in a good approximation of standard Italian. – DaG Jan 21 '15 at 20:33
  • 2
    The fact that nobody pronounce them differently and that nobody pays attention does not mean that people shouldn't try to pronounce them correctly when they're trying to learn Italian. Good example anyway. – entropid Jan 23 '15 at 13:55
  • 1
    It is not a «fact that nobody pronounce[s] them differently»: just visit Tuscany, for instance. It is probably true that very few people mind the correct way to pronounce the two es. Who pronounces them correctly does so because he heard them so since his infancy. – DaG Jan 24 '15 at 0:20
  • DaG, you're right! But I think that people who are Learning italian should focus on other things, since this is not a serious error. – PWhite Jan 24 '15 at 18:30
  • 1
    PWhite, what's the point in learning it the wrong way? I'm from Veneto myself and after many years of speaking with my accent I'm having quite a hard time trying to turn my pronunciation into a more standard one. If a foreigner wants to learn Italian, he/she'd better do it the right way from the start. :) They are lucky not to have acquaintances influencing their accent in the wrong way. – Andrea Lazzarotto May 27 '15 at 15:57
6

In Standard Italian they are indeed pronounced distinctly, but the distribution of open and closed vowels in Italian can vary greatly depending on the dialect (due to the influence of regional languages). Here are some examples of regions in which the different pronunciations of pèsca and pésca can be found:


🍑 pèsca = /ˈpɛska//ˈpeska/ = pésca 🎣

  • Central Italy
    • Tuscany
    • Rome

🍑 pèsca = [ˈpɛska] = pésca

  • Lombardia (e.g. Milan)
  • A few Southern Italian varieties:
    • [Northern] Sicily (e.g. Palermo)
    • Calabria
    • Salento
    • Sardinia

pèsca = [ˈpeska] = pésca 🎣

  • Some Northern Italian varieties:
    • Liguria (e.g. Genoa) (except the extreme Ligurian Levant)
    • Piedmont

Sources:

 • The Phonology of Italian, Martin Krämer (2009)
 • Pronounce "e" like [ɛ] or [e]?
 • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_phonology#Vowels
 • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_Italian#Characteristics_of_regional_Italian

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    For what is worth also Venetan Italian pronounces both as /'pesca/ (note that Venetan is the only northern Italo-Romance language to preserve the heptavocalic system, although with a different distribution than Standard Italian) – Denis Nardin Jan 24 '19 at 17:06
5

Like PWhite answered you, most Italians will understand from context and the use of "è" and "é" will vary from regions to regions and city to city. Personally: yes my pronunciation, in this case, is different as it should be.

| improve this answer | |
3

Those are two different sounds.

Maybe many Italians don't know what's the difference, but when they speak actually they use different sounds.

The “e” in pèsca (“peach”) is an open vowel.

The “e” in pésca (“he fishes”) is a closed vowel.

See: http://www.attori.com/dizione/Diz15.htm

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.