Italian Pronunciation – It’s All In The Vowels

It seems that my cheeky language guides are by far my most-viewed posts! You might remember such great hits as:

How To Sound Like An Italian: Pronunciation Guide For Tourists

How To Sound Like An Italian, Miss Expatria Style

and the ever-popular Italian For Tourists: Advanced Guide.

Well, this next section we might call the super-advanced guide for tourists who want to speak Italian when they go to Italy. And better yet – you’ll hear all about the mistakes Miss Expatria herself has made, to everyone’s amusement and to my abject humiliation. Ready?

Just beware – a great many of my language follies resulted in the most embarrassing double entendres – so keep the kiddies at home for this one. OK, here we go.

A popular cheese in Italy is called pecorino romano, made from sheep’s or goat’s milk and most frequently used in my favorite dish, cacio e pepe. Say it with me: pay-co-ree-no row-mah-no. Most Italians will just call it pecorino. Easy enough, no? Well, not if you’re me.

I once was trapped in a small mountain cabin with five Napoletani and my friend Vincenzo, the only one of the group who understood both me and them when we spoke. Vincenzo was cooking in the kitchen one evening – a delightful saffron risotto, if you must know – and I was watching him while I slowly carved my way through a block of pecorino romano. As I gazed lovingly at the piece I had just hacked off, I mused, “Adoro pecorina.”

Vincenzo’s head snapped around, his eyes as big as saucers. What did you say, he asked me.

“Adoro…pecorina?” I held up the cheese to illustrate.

He started laughing. He ran out of the kitchen, and after a moment’s silence, there came the distinct sound of the Napoletani laughing. I remained in the kitchen, confused.

It appears that while pecorino is a delicious cheese, pecorina means to have sex doggie-style. Needless to say, I was very popular among the Napoletani for the rest of the weekend.

For this next lesson, please take a moment to watch this video. It is an example of the Italian version of peek-a-boo, which is known as “Bu-bu… settete.”

At my friend Luca’s house, I noticed a postcard of a garden gnome peeking around a corner, and the caption to the photo was “Bu-bu… settete.” I didn’t know what it meant, so I called Luca over to ask him.

“Luca, che significa, ‘Bu-bu sette tette?'” I pointed to the postcard to indicate why I was asking.

Once again, I found myself in a kitchen with an Italian who was looking at me wide-eyed and shocked after I had said something I thought to be perfectly innocent. Once again, an Italian ran from the room and hysterical laughter followed a few seconds later. This did not bode well.

It appears that while “Bu-bu… settete” means “Peek-a-boo,” “Bu-bu… sette tette” means “Peek-a-boo, seven tits.”

Which brings me to my third but by no means final gaffe, and your last lesson for today.

This summer I attended a chic and wonderful party in Rome, on a rooftop on via Urbana. It had a beautiful view of the neighborhoods rooftops, which I noted to my friend Leo as we munched on tiny tramezzini sandwiches.

Cue the shocked look, the repeating of my perfectly innocent statement, the ensuing laughter.

It appears that while we had “una bella vista dei tetti,” a beautiful view of the roofs, we did not have “una bella vista delle tette,” or a beautiful view of the tits. (At least, not from where we were standing.)

Like I said – it’s all in the vowels.

12 thoughts on “Italian Pronunciation – It’s All In The Vowels

  1. Difficult to keep abreast of these vowels – I know😉

    One of my students’ surnames is ‘Cozzolongo’! Get it slightly wrong and you have a flattering surname for a guy!

    Alex

  2. Oh man, that poor kid. Come on, out with your mistakes! I know you must have a few to add to mine and Bleeding Espresso’s list.

  3. Yes, I sure saying ‘pecorina’ has dogged you ever since.

    When I was first here I often used to ask for a ‘penis’ when I meant a ‘pen’! I got some odd double takes, I can tell you!

    Bit of a cock up, what!

    Alex

  4. Whilst in Italy I was regularly asked how old I was. Then, and still now I generally fail at pronouncing double consonants. So, whenever asked I would happily respond ‘ho diciotto anni’ as what I thought I said and ‘ho diciotto ani’ as what I actually said. Needless to say I got a few sniggers and a few blank stares! My cousins later sat me down, yes sat me down, and said we need to talk about how you say ‘anni’!

  5. Cristina, yes the double consonants are one of those things you just can’t learn right off the bat – I’ve made the ani/anni mistake quite a few times myself. EMBARRASSING.

  6. aaa “ani” and “anni” well come to Veneto and you’ll be safe. We do not pronounce double consontants!! instead pay attention to this: an English friend of mine once asked for “prosciutto senza preservativi”. Now in Italian “preservativi” means “condom”.🙂

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