Mid vowels at the crossroads between standard and regional Italian
2022-04-14, 10:30–11:00 (Europe/Vienna), Room 2


This paper aims at exploring the degree of standardization of the phonological system of Italian spoken in Bolzano (BI). Our specific goal is to study the acoustic and distributional properties of mid vowels /e/~/ɛ/ and /o/~/ɔ/ in relation to the standard, both from a linguistic and sociolinguistic perspective. The analysis will be conducted on spontaneous speech data coming from DIA corpus (Dialogical ItAlian) (Mereu & Vietti, submitted).
The phonological heterogeneity displayed by the regional varieties of Italian is somehow connected to the problem of identifying the standard variety (Vietti 2019). Standard Italian (SI) historically corresponds to the educated Florentine pronunciation, but generally it is considered more as an abstract notion with no native speakers (Bertinetto & Loporcaro 2005). One of the factors that may have contributed to the absence of a standardizing center in the Italian sociolinguistic repertoire is the long-standing contact with primary dialects, that produced variability and different local competing norms (Auer 2005).
A critical issue of SI concerns the vowel system: in SI there are seven vocalic phonemes but the distinction in the set of mid vowels is weak, in terms of both functional load and diffusion among the geographical varieties (Canepari 1986; Krämer 2009; Renwick & Ladd 2016; Vietti 2019).
Mioni (1990) defined BI as a variety of north-eastern Italian more advanced than Veneto Italian towards standardization and he attributed this greater standardization to the history of the immigration of Italian speakers towards Bolzano. BI is influenced to varying degrees by the neighboring Trentino-Veneto dialects and it can be described as the result of a koineization and levelling process (Vietti 2017).
Data for our analysis come from DIA, a corpus made up of around 10 hours of spontaneous dialogic interactions. The sample involves 40 speakers (age range: 18-65; 14M, 26F): Tyrolean native speakers (Italian sequential bilinguals), Italian native speakers, and simultaneous bilinguals.
Data have been processed using automatic tools and then they have been manually corrected. Vowels have been annotated following SI, which represents the reference point for the analysis. Transcribed and annotated data have been transformed in a searchable EMU database (Winkelmann et al. 2017).
In this study we focus only on Italian native speakers. The auditive analysis of the vowels system reported in Mioni (1990) indicates that in Veneto Italian and in BI there are features of complete standardization, diverging features and widely varying features (Berruto 2012). Basing on these results, our analysis on mid vowels aims: a) to provide a description of the acoustic and temporal properties; b) to test the acoustic distinctiveness of the categories; c) to compare our results with Mioni’s analysis to observe a possible sound change in progress; d) to identify linguistic constraints to mid vowels variability; e) to put the patterns of variation in the wider context of social variation (age and gender). The analysis will help to shed some light on the problematic role of mid vowels in the relationship between the phonology of SI and the phonological systems of the regional varieties.


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Krämer, M. (2009), The Phonology of Italian. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mereu, D. & Vietti, A. (submitted), “Dialogic ItAlian (DIA): the creation of a corpus of Italian spontaneous speech”.
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Winkelmann, R., Harrington, J., Jänsch, K. (2017), “EMU-SDMS: Advanced speech database management and analysis in R”. Computer Speech & Language 45: 392-410.

Panel affiliation

Sociolinguistic variation in contemporary Italian