The Italian flag is hoisted from European flagpoles throughout the Italian territory. This historical tricolor looks like certain other national flags. This national standard was adopted back in 1948, shortly after the Second World War. The three vertical stripes each have the same width, but feature different colors. The vertical band on the left displays green, the one in the middle is white, and the vertical stripe on the right is red.
The civil ensign can be seen attached to Italian flagpoles, every so often. This Italian tricolor displays a shield on the white vertical band in the middle. The shield is divided into 4 parts, representing the four “Maritime Republics” of the country of Italy. This tricolor type ensign is similar to the one flown by the Italian Navy.
Italy has a democratic republic. Despite the country’s financial challenges, it has been ranked as one of the most developed countries in the world. The quality of live that Italians enjoy is found in the world’s top 25 as well. Italy is a member of the European Union as well as the Euro zone. Italy also enjoys membership with the G-eight the G-twenty and NATO.
Some other interesting dates in Italian history. Before 1861 Italy consisted of several separate states. Towards the end of the 1700s Napoleon invaded the northern part of the country. Some years later the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy was organized. Some ten years later, Napoleon was defeated. During the eighteen forties the nationalists gained momentum. In 1861 the Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy was organized. And, in 1946 the republic of Italy was organized.
Since 2006 the president of Italy has been Giorgio Napolitano. He is the head of the state. An Italian president is elected for a period of seven years. Interestingly, it is the president who selects the prime minister as well as the cabinet. Silvio Berlusconi was the prime minister for a few years till 11/2011, when he officially resigned.
The national Mexican flag has been around for a while and very much resembles the Italian flag. Flown from Mexican flagpoles, the Mexican national tricolor features slightly different color. The Mexican standard is more rectangular. Even though these two flags are very much alike, Italy’s flag-design was based on the French “Tricolore,” indeed the national tricolor of France. Another similar standard to the Italian one is the Irish tricolor.
For most native English speakers, to learn Italian language pronunciation is a challenge within reach compared to many other languages. Only a small number of consonant sounds do not have direct English equivalents; however, the wide exposure to Italian cuisine, movies, and music has given a number of people at least some familiarity with these different sounds. As for the vowels, they all can be found in English! While there are five written vowel letters “a, e, i, o, u”, there are seven distinct vowel sounds. These other two sounds come from the “open” and “close” pronunciations of the letters “e” and “o”. What is an “open” or “close” vowel sound? Let’s find out by taking a closer look at how to pronounce all the Italian vowels.
First, let’s begin with the vowels that always have the same sound. Whenever you see the vowels “a”, “i”, and “u” between consonants or alone at the beginning/end of a word, you’ll see that the “a” sounds like the “a” in the English word “father” as in gatto (cat), the “i” sounds like the “ee” in the English word “see” as in amico (friend), and the “u” sounds like the “oo” English word “food” as in uno (one). However, when vowels are next to other vowels, they sometimes can combine with their neighbors and form a new sound that is called a diphthong (two vowel sounds combined into one) or triphthong (three vowel sounds combined into one), but to go into more detail is beyond the scope of this article.
Now, let’s take a look at the letters “e” and “o”. Both these letters have what is called an “open” and “close” pronunciation. These terms describe the position of the tongue in the mouth when the vowel sound is made. For an “open” vowel sound, the tongue is placed at the bottom of the mouth creating an open cavity for air to pass through. On the other hand, a “close” vowel sound is made when the tongue is raised close to the roof of the mouth minimizing the amount of air that passes and changing the sound of the vowel.
In Italian, the open “e” sounds like the “e” in the English word “bed” as in bella (pretty). While, the close “e” sounds like the “ai” in the English word “maid” as in mela (apple). There are even some words that differ in meaning solely by the use of a close “e” or open “e”. For example, in Italian pronounce the word pesca with a close “e” and your Italian friend will think you’re talking about a “peach”. If you say pesca with an open “e” it takes on the meaning of “fishing.” Like the letter “e”, the Italian “o” has both open and close pronunciations. The open “o” sounds like the “o” in the English word “hog” as in forza (strength) while the close “o” sounds like the “oe” in the English word “toe” as in signore (sir; gentleman).
So, how do you know when to pronounce an Italian “e” or “o” as an open or close vowel? Usually, in unstressed syllables you’ll only find close vowels such as the “o” in sabato (Saturday) and the “e” in nove (nine). However, in stressed syllables you can come across either the close or open vowel sound. Sometimes accent marks can be placed over the vowels to help you tell the difference in pronunciations. The upward angled mark (acute accent), as in “” or “”, designates an open pronunciation while the falling mark (grave accent), as in “” or “”, signifies a close pronunciation. While you may find these accent marks provided in dictionaries or even in written material when the author is clarifying homographs such as ancra (still) as opposed to ncora (anchor), you’ll generally only find an accent mark on the final syllable if it’s stressed like with perch (why), caff (coffee), and per (but).
Even then, particularly in handwriting, many Italians use the accent mark only as a marker of stress and not to distinguish between the open and close pronunciations. So, you may come across a stroke above the letter that looks neither acute nor grave. Or, you may discover grave accents used for all cases. While these guidelines follow the pronunciation of the Tuscan accent which has become the neutral standard used in dictionaries and in the media, Italy is still a country with many strong regional accents. In some cases, the use of a close or open vowel for a certain word is the exact opposite usage of another region. Or, some regional accents may not make a distinction between an open and close vowel that another would. So,listen for the sounds of the letters “e” and “o” from the accent you’re trying to emulate. Get out there, have fun and talk to people! Ciao!
For more on italian pronunciation audio resources try looking through this Italian pronunciation guide and consider learning on the go with mobile devices like that iPhone which integrate aural and visual stimuli.
Polyglot and world nomad, PT Gardner loves Romance languages and can while away the day with a dictionary. You can find him blogging here.
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