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Given the sentence below from an Italian song I heard on YouTube:

Gli elefanti vanno a ballare in cimiteri sconosciuti

The a in vanno a ballare to me is completely silent. Note, I referring to the single vowel word a in that phrase (English word to). I cross checked this with the somewhat suspect computer generated voice on Google Translate:

https://translate.google.com/#it/en/Gli%20elefanti%20vanno%20a%20ballare%20in%20cimiteri%20sconosciuti

In both cases I literally can't hear the word a at all. Is that just my ears or do Italian speakers completely drop certain single syllable vowel sounds in certain cases? (Note I mean the sound of the single vowel word and not spelling, e.g.- ho sounds to me like just plain o).

I've noticed this phenomenon in several places, especially when one or more single vowel words are strung together and lead into a noun or adjective that starts with a vowel (E.g. - Io ho un uovo, uova, uomini, etc. Here, to me, the ho sound isn't distinguishable but seems to simply make the o in io a little longer).

In some cases it appears like although the single vowel word isn't distinguishable from the syllables surrounding it, but does cause a dipthong-like change to neighboring vowel sounds, and at other times it seems like there's simply a tiny pause added to where the single vowel word sound should be heard, but isn't (audible).

Are there any hard and fast rules here?

  • I suppose this is the song in question: youtube.com/watch?v=EDCHk6JhFzQ. There are two "a"s in "ballare", so I too assume you're referencing the first one, which I agree is more quiet than the second one, however could you clarify this? – kos Oct 18 '15 at 14:34
  • @kos Yes that's the song. I just updated my post to clarify that the "a" sound I don't hear is for the Italian single vowel word "a" (English word "to"), not either of the "a" sounds in "ballare". – Robert Oschler Oct 18 '15 at 14:43
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    Pretty relevant: italian.stackexchange.com/questions/5595/… – DaG Oct 18 '15 at 15:20
  • If you are satisfied with the answer to your question, please consider the option to "accept" it by clicking a checkmark next to the answer. – I.M. Oct 24 '15 at 9:06
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Disclaimer: I am just an armchair linguist and my only qualification here is being a native speaker of Italian with a mild interest in grammar and pronunciation.

Usually in spoken Italian when there are two adjacent vowels in a sentence (for example because a word ends in a vowel and the following word starts with one) we tend to "merge" the two corresponding syllables. So in "vanno a ballare" you can hear only five syllables. However this is pronounced differently than if someone just said "vanno ballare" because of the difference in the vocalic sound (a sort of "diphtong" oa although I am not sure if it is correct to call it so).

As an addendum, the letter "h" in Italian is never pronounced but it is only used in the written language to differentiate homophones ("hanno"/"anno", "ha"/"a") or in combination with "c" and "g" to denote the presence of the hard (velar) sound instead of the soft (palatalized) sound ("chi" /ki/ vs "ci" /tʃi/). I think that in "Io ho" there should be two syllables (so that even if "h" is not pronounced it separates the two vocalic sounds) but I can certainly imagine someone speaking quickly so that the "merging" happens.

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