Sometimes the "c" such as in Tortorice and Celente are pronounced as "s" which is not according Italian rules. Why?

  • 2
    Maybe it only betrays my own ignorance, but I'm a native speaker of Italian, and I have no idea what those two words that you mentioned are; I see from a web search that "Tortorici" is a town in Sicily, while Celente appears to be a surname but I couldn't even determine if it's an Italian one. At any rate, if I saw those two words written and had no indications they are loanwords (from French for example), I'd pronounce the "c" as /tʃ/, in accordance with the normal rules.
    – LjL
    Apr 20, 2019 at 14:33

1 Answer 1


Ah Italian pronunciation. This is going to be fun!

One thing you have to understand about the evolution of the Italian language is that Italian was for most of its existence an almost exclusively written language. It was the language in which the élites communicated with each other via letters and poetry, but it was rarely used in everyday conversation if at all.

As a consequence when Italy was unified in 1861, there was no doubt about what should be the national language (although it was understood only by a tiny minority of the inhabitants), but actually very little idea about how the language was pronounced in practice.

Some of the most influential intellectuals of the time (notable Alessandro Manzoni) pushed to have a "Florentine" pronunciation, based on contemporary Florentine language. This clashed with some practical problems though. In order to do so, Tuscany should have produced a veritable army of schoolteachers that would go in each primary school of the new nation to teach the new language in the "correct" way.

This obviously didn't happen (I don't think there were enough people who spoke Florentine at the time, even if we pressed all of them into service). So what happened was that the written language was standardized, but everyone read it according to their own phonotactics. So for example, the z in azione is geminate in Tuscany (its original phonetic value), but often pronounced simple in the North. Or intervocalic s is always voiced in the North, despite the "official" pronunciation having a few minimal pairs (chiese= churches/chiese=she asked).

There have been a few attempts to "uniformize" the pronunciation, most notably the extension of the Dizionario dell'ortografia e della pronunzia (DOP), which was used by national television to determine what ought to be the "actual" pronunciation of words (this is a completely artificial pronunciation, obtained by removing from Florentine regional pronunciation a few characters, deemed too regional in nature, notably spirantization of intervocalic affricates and the gorgia).

So, long story short, while there is an "official" Italian pronunciation, it is not used by basically anyone, except for a few "professionals of the word" (i.e. actors, tv hosts etc.). Italians tend to agree on characteristics that are reflected on the written word, literacy having become almost universal, but beyond that everyone's speech tends to have a fairly distinct regional character, depending on where they grew up.

Among the big division, it seems that currently the Northern regional variants are enjoying the most prestige, and the Southern the least (possibly due to the economic situation, or the location of many TV stations in the North), but those macro areas are far from uniform in themselves, so expect to see a lot of variations nonetheless.

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