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Not surprisingly American English has accents that help identify what part of the country you might be from, but more defined by a larger general region than by city which is more common in European countries. It is commonly remarked that the most "unaccented" or "standard" American English can be found spoken in middle Ohio, dubbed the Upper-Midland or North Midland dialect.

Is there such an accent or dialect that has the same general identification for the Italian language? Is there any specific reason why, and what are some of the main linguistic features of that accent?

  • Very interesting question. My guess is that there is no 'standard' 'unaccented' Italian. – user519 May 15 '15 at 19:41
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    Although modern standard Italian is used all over Italy, it is very few Italians' first language . Most speak one of the 15 regional dialects as their first language. In a fine display of the power of the pen over the sword, the Tuscan dialect established dominance not because Tuscany was a greater military or financial power than other Italian regions, but because the 3 great writers of the Middle Ages, Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch, wrote in the Tuscan dialect. bbc.co.uk/languages/european_languages/languages/italian.shtml – user519 May 15 '15 at 19:52
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Luciano Canepàri in his DiPI (Dizionario di Pronuncia Italiana) defines Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio and Rome as “regioni standardizzanti” (regions where a standard-like pronunciation of standard Italian is used), and separates Rome from Lazio, as the capital has some peculiar characteristics, closer to those of Tuscany.

Those regional pronunciations are similar to each others, as are the respective local dialects. There are historical reasons for it. However, one has to point out that, although they’re close to each others, central Italian dialects such as those of Lazio, Umbria and (part of) Marche must be separated from the Tuscan dialects.

The Tuscan pronunciation of standard Italian shows the following features:

  • Tuscan gorgia: /k/, /t/ and /p/ between vowels are pronounced as fricatives, that is [h] (similar to the ‹h› in hard), [θ] (similar to the ‹th› in thanks), [ɸ] (hard to find an English comparison here, just see this Wikipedia entry about this sound). If you are curious about the origins of this phenomenon, take a look at this essay (in Italian).
  • Weakening of /dʒ/ (for gelo) and /tʃ/ (for cena) between vowels, which become [ʒ] and [ʃ] respectively.
  • Affrication of /s/ after /l/, /n/, /r/: borsa becomes bor[ts]a. That feature is not common everywhere in Tuscany.

The features of the central Italian pronunciation (that of Umbria, Marche, Lazio and Rome) are pretty much the same, except for the gorgia, which is typical of the Tuscan dialect only. Also, central Italian people tend to pronounce /b/ as [bb] and /dʒ/ as [ddʒ] between vowels: e.g. abete is pronounced as abbete; progetto as proggetto.

The Romanesco dialect has also some other minor features, such as a slight sonorisation of /t/, /p/ and /k/, so andato might sound vaguely similar to andado to an untrained ear.

The Italian pronunciation in Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio and Rome — and in the southern regions as well, but that is unrelated here — also includes the syntactic gemination.

It’s important to remark that those features are only regional, and are not part of the standard Italian pronunciation, except for the syntactic gemination. In standard Italian, largely an artificial way of speaking only used by actors, newsreaders and dubbers:

  • /k/, /t/ and /p/ are always pronounced as such.
  • The grapheme ‹g› is always pronounced as /dʒ/.
  • The grapheme ‹c› is always pronounced as /tʃ/.
  • /l/, /n/ and /r/ + /s/ are always pronounced as such, with no insertion of a dental stop: therefore, borsa is always bo[rs]a and never bo[rts]a.
  • The syntactic gemination is always applied, except for the preposition da, the conjunction and adverb come, and the adverb dove. (Da, come and dove only activate the syntactic gemination in Tuscan.)
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  • Romanesco dialect is very similar to standard Italian? – user519 May 15 '15 at 20:54
  • It’s certainly closer to standard Italian than any other non-Tuscan Italian languages/dialects, for historical reasons. – Ferdinand Bardamu May 15 '15 at 20:56
  • That may be, though I am not really sure about it. But the way you say it sounds like that if you know standard Italian you can easily understand the Romanesco dialect , which is not the case. – user519 May 15 '15 at 20:59
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    I do think so: if you can understand standard Italian, then it’s easier for you to understand Romanesco dialect than any other non-Tuscan dialects in Italy. Take a look at the Wikipedia entry. Historically, the language spoken in Rome has been influenced by the Tuscan dialect, which makes Romanesco language so close to Tuscan. Why do you think that a foreign student learning standard Italian could not understand a Romanesco-speaking guy? – Ferdinand Bardamu May 15 '15 at 21:04
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    I would like to point out that the Florentine dialect itself might be difficult to understand to a non-native speaker. I mean, the Florentine dialect itself departs from standard Italian as much as the Romanesco dialect does, and a foreigner could have a hard time understanding it as they could have understanding the Romanesco one. The Italian language is mostly an artificial, literary language, whose foundations were laid in the 14th century and have gone almost entirely unscathed through the centuries up till now. – Ferdinand Bardamu May 15 '15 at 21:17

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