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Why is mangia pronounced with a "ja" sound of one syllable at its end, and genealogia pronounced with two syllables, with the sounds "gee" and "ah"?

They are both spelled gia. I thought the rules for pronouncing Italian were pretty fixed, but here is an difference I am at a loss to understand. Is it just an exception that I need to learn, or is there a reason for this?

I hope that I have not asked this in the wrong place. I have searched for the answer to this with no success, and I notice that there is a tag for pronunciation on this site...

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The difference here is the stress. If you look up those words in a dictionary you'll see that the last i of genealogia is stressed, while the last i of mangia is not. That is

màngia

genealogìa

Since the last i of genealogìa is stressed it is not part of the digraph gi, but a vowel on its own.

NOTE: Actually, you won't find the word mangia in the dictionary, because it is a form of the verb mangiare and in Italian verbs are listed in the dictionary at the infinitive form. Nothing actually changes, since the i in mangiàre is not stressed either so you know that it is part of the digraph gi, and this gets inherited by the various forms of the verb.

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  • In my reading booklet, there were NO marks at all to be found. I will certainly pay more attention to them in the future. We don't have (many) them in English, and I did not understand how important they are... – Msfolly Feb 9 '16 at 0:48
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    @Msfolly The stress is almost never indicated in written Italian (except when it occurs at the end of the word: più, perché etc.), since in the 90% of the occasions it can be deduced from the form of the word. Nevertheless it is an important part of how we pronounce the words and can be looked up in a dictionary. – Denis Nardin Feb 9 '16 at 0:57
  • Well, that is good to know. I DO think it is strange that in a booklet that is supposed to be teaching me to read and pronounce words that this information was not even mentioned, as they have done for other pronunciation rules. It must be an oversight. Who ever wrote the list must have had this apparent inconsistency in mind when making up the list, but the people actually making tape missed it. I had no idea of where to even LOOK for this intelligence, although I did give it a try. I only noticed it because the words were fairly close together in the list. – Msfolly Feb 9 '16 at 1:07
  • I would say that a nice exercise - to be done with a Italian friend - is to try to pronounce the same word with all the different possible stresses, just to get the correct one. Note, that there are cases where the same word can be pronounced with different stresses, but then meanings are different. – mario Feb 11 '16 at 21:45
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The puzzle is easily solved: there is no “i” sound in mangia, it is just a graphic device for denoting the palatal pronunciation of “g”, like in gelato. So, apart from the different vowel following it, the sound is the same /ʤ/.

It's the same for “c”: the palatal pronunciation is denoted by inserting an “i” before “a”, ”o” or “u”: goccia (drop), gancio (hook), ciuco (donkey).

To the contrary, the “hard” sound is denoted by inserting an “h” before “e” and “i”: che (conjunction or pronoun), chi (who), alghe (seeweed), ghiro (dormouse).

So the verb mangiare has no “i” in its root; indeed the future tense is mangerò, mangerai, because there's no need to denote the palatal pronunciation.

Sometimes, however, for etymological reasons (but the real reason is some imposition by grammarians), the “i” is preserved; it's the case of plurals, so camicia (shirt) becomes camicie and ciliegia (cherry) becomes ciliegie. In both cases the “i” still has no sound.

The case of cielo (sky) and cieco (blind) is a bit different: ancient Italian (Tuscan) pronounced this “i”; it's still heard in southern Italian speakers.

In some words, though, the “i” sound is present and it is tonic, like farmacia (apothecary) or genealogia. Of course, in this case, it is pronounced with palatal sound.

A curious case are the adverbs già and giù where there is no diphthong (/ʤa/ and /ʤu/), but they're written with an accent in analogy with più.

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As other users have already pointed out, the difference here is in the position of the stress: genealogia: [ge-ne-a-lo--a] vs. mangiare: [man-già-re] (mangiare is the infinitive tense of the word mangia).

If you have a doubt about a word pronunciation, you can look it up in a phonetic dictionary such as Dipi (and if you are lucky enough you may even find it! 😉) and look at the phonetic transcription of your word or of a similar word. For example, you'll find genealogia (/ʤenealoˈʤia/), but you won't find mangia or mangiare; anyway, if you type mangia in the research bar, you'll get similar words, such as Torre del Mangia (/ˈtorre delˈmanʤa/) and deduce that the pronunciation of mangia is /manʤa/. However, this is a very fortuitous situation...

A very useful tool for Italian language learners is Forvo, a website filled with the pronunciation of hundreds of words by native Italian language speakers. Here I've found both the pronunciation of genealogia and the pronunciation of mangia.

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-gia, -cia pronounciation is a bit tricky, however in this case genealogia derives from greek so it is pronounced -gì-a.

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  • Welcome to Italian.SE! What we're expecting here is a more detailed and reasoned answer. – Charo Feb 18 '16 at 18:52

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