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I've learned a little Italian over the past 2 weeks. I thought until now that when you encounter a double consonant, like cc in zucchero or tt in frutta, you pause for a moment mid-word giving a word that "bouncy" quality. But today I learned that il cavallo means “the horse” and the Italian speaker I heard in the recording did not pause mid-word at all.

What are the rules for when you pause mid-word on a syllable and when you don't?

UPDATE: I have received comments that indicate I am not explaining this as well as I could. So here are two examples using Google Translate:

https://translate.google.com/#it/en/mela

https://translate.google.com/#it/en/caramella

If you listen to both phrases using the "listen" button (little speaker icon below text entry box), you can hear the "pause" I am talking about. (Perhaps it is better to say that the effect seems to alter significantly the stress applied to the syllable?) But to my ears, the amount of time spent on "me" in caramella versus the "me" in mela feels almost like a pause on that syllable. That is, it sounds like that syllable is held a bit longer before moving on to the next syllable when there's a double consonant ending or following it. In words with the double consonant tt or cc (e.g. - fritto or cioccolato), due to the plosive nature of those consonant sounds, it literally feels like a tiny period of silence before the next syllable is spoken.

UPDATE 2: The plot thickens. Here is the same pronunciation sample pair but on Forvo:

http://forvo.com/word/mela/#it

http://forvo.com/search/caramella/it/

And caramella with a Catalan pronunciation (see Charo's comment below):

http://forvo.com/search/caramella/ca/

With these examples spoken by humans rather than text to speech voices used by DuoLingo and Google Translate (computer generated voices), the effect is very subtle and perhaps non-existent. Although as Charo pointed out, the Catalan pronunciation does seem to have a more pronounced stress accent on me in caramella than the Italian pronunciation does. Unfortunately Forvo did not have a Catalan pronunciation for mela.

Given the above test I am now quite worried that I am picking up some bad habits.

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    I'm not sure about this “mid-word pause” thing. As you describe it, I wouldn't say it is part of Italian pronunciation, but perhaps I am misunderstanding you. Where did you learn about it? Are you able to describe it in more precise terms, say using IPA? – DaG Oct 18 '15 at 7:05
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    I think what you're saying is true. In Catalan (my own language) we have the same phenomenon with what is called "ela geminada", written "l·l". In words containing this "ela geminada", the first syllable is pronounced in a more prolonged way, at least in theory. This "standard pronunciation" is being lost in Catalan from Barcelona, but is very clear in Balearic Catalan, for instance. But maybe it's not really a pause, it's just that the first syllable is pronounced in a more prolonged way. – Charo Oct 18 '15 at 9:05
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    I don't know of this phenomenon. Even if it were actual for some speakers, it surely has no phonematic value (i.e., its absence or presence don't distinguish different word). And, lastly, the voice pronouncing caramella in the linked sample has a quite weird, querulous intonation; I wonder if it has been taken out of a long sample whose prosodic characteristic are lost here. – DaG Oct 18 '15 at 12:46
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    I'm sorry, @RobertOschler, but the Catalan word "caramella" has nothing to do with the Italian "caramella" and is not an example of "ela geminada". You can listen to the pronunciation of the Catalan word cel·la as an example of what I am referring to. – Charo Oct 18 '15 at 14:22
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    But I think that the fact of the first syllable being pronounced in a more prolonged way is just due to the extra consonant. – Charo Oct 18 '15 at 15:10
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The is no mid-word pause when you pronounce Italian words with double consonants. You may have come across pronunciation exercises such the one below, where, just for the sake of learning the longer sound of double consonants, they suggest to pronounce them slowly. Normal, common pronunciation are just plain, without any pause.

  • Poiché in italiano esistono alcune parole che si differenziano soltanto per la durata della consonante, è importante prestare molta attenzione alla pronuncia delle consonanti doppie, cioè due consonanti scritte due volte di seguito.

  • Quando una parola presenta due consonanti doppie, il suono della consonante stessa si rafforza e la vocale precedente si accorcia. Al contrario, quando si allunga il suono di una vocale, la consonante che segue ne uscirà inevitabilmente indebolita.

  • Provate a leggere le seguenti parole facendo attenzione alle doppie. Vi suggerisco di scandire bene le sillabe, per esempio di pronunciare CAR-RO con una pausa tra le due sillabe, in modo che si senta bene la prima “R”.

caro / carro

fato / fatto

cane / canne

casa / cassa

capello / cappello

(zanichellibenvenuti.it)

| improve this answer | |
  • Hi Josh. No exercises suggesting that, just listening to the sound of the text to speech audio samples I linked above, which are now appearing a bit suspect. – Robert Oschler Oct 18 '15 at 14:09
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    @RobertOschler: I think that Josh61 is referring to the pronunciation exercise proposed at the web site zanichellibenvenuti.it/wordpress/?p=233, which suggests to pronounce these words with a pause between the two syllables. – Charo Oct 18 '15 at 15:24
  • I agree with the answer and the comments. I would add that the letter before the double consonant in carro, fatto, canne and cassa is pronounced more quickly than the same letter in caro, fato, cane and casa. The same goes for the a in capello and cappello (but not for the e). That may help to confuse a little the students of our beautiful but difficult language. – alsa Oct 26 '15 at 15:30
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Double consonants are stressed/made slightly longer than single consonants, but this stress exhibits differently depending on the type of consonant.

The 'little pause' you have been taught is just the effect of trying to stress some of these consonants. For example, you will probably find it easy to say both a short 'l' and an elongated 'l', but will not be able to similarly make an elongated 'p' sound - if you try, you just end up prolonging the build up of air before you 'release' it to make the 'p' sound. This build up is the 'little pause', but it is also described as being a more 'strong' consonant sound, since the build up makes it more forceful sounding.

Here is a breakdown of the different consonants:

  • ff, vv, ll, mm, nn, rr, ss have a prolonged sound

  • pp, bb, cc, gg, tt, dd, zz have an apparently more forceful pronunciation

If you want to hear the difference, listen to native speakers making these (semi-)minimnal pairs:

  • rissa (scuffle) / risa (laugh)
  • valle (valley) / vale (it is worth)
  • carro (wagon) / caro (expensive)
  • cammino (walk) / camino (chimney)
  • nonno (grandfather) / nono (ninth)
  • bevve ([s]he drank) / beve ([s]he drinks)

  • notte (night) / note (notes)
  • pappa (baby food) / papa (the pope)
  • pacco (pack) / paco (I calm)
  • leggo (I read) / lego (I tie)

Note: The Catalan pronunciation of the 'll' in caramella is a completely different consonant from the Italian word:

/kə.ɾəˈme.ʎə/ (Catalan /ʎ/)
/ka.raˈmɛl.la/ (Italian /l.l/ - geminated /l/)

The Italian orthography for expressing the same consonant /ʎ/ is 'gl' / 'gli' :
e.g. figli, glielo, maglia


https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learn-italian/0/steps/14975
https://ca.wiktionary.org/wiki/caramella
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:IPA/Italian
https://learn-italian-online.italianvirtualschool.it/en/tag/italian-minimal-pairs/

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    Welcome to Italian.SE! – Charo Mar 13 '18 at 15:51
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    Note that the s sound is a bit weird, in that it also changes in voicing between the simple and geminate version (and so it is arguably not the same consonant at all). [This phenomenon however does not happen in some regional variants of Italian, mainly central and meridional] – Denis Nardin Mar 13 '18 at 20:06

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