Saturday: Phrasal Doubling and Assimilation

Today we explore the concept of phrasal doubling or raddoppiamento fonosintattico. This phenomenon occurs in the Italian language chiefly as a homage to its Latin roots, or as the kids say nowadays, “we got the receipts.” As Latin morphed into Italian, we see both that spelling changes AND that there’s a lasting effect on pronunciation. Many of the double consonants that we see spelled out are the evolution/ assimilation of consonant clusters from Latin:

octo /kt/ → otto
saxum /ks/ → sasso
somno /mn/ → sonno

There are four consonants that auto-double —

  • sc
  • gn,
  • gl,
  • z/zz either voiced (dz) or unvoiced (ts).

    These are ‘receipts’ from Latin:

lasciare /ʃ:ʃ/ is from Latin laxare /ks/
regno /ɲ:ɲ/ <L regnum /ɲ/
figlio /ʎ:ʎ/ <L filius /l/
azione /t:ts/ <L actus /kt/
olezzo /d:dz/ <L olidus /l/

The same influence from Latin is what causes the phenomenon of phrasal doubling – where there were more consonant sounds between words in Latin, the Italians preserved this effect by doubling the initial consonant after certain words, falling into the groups of

    • strong/tonic one-syllable words or one-syllable words with a written accent (examples: a, che, chi, tu, sé)
    • polysyllabic words with stress on the final syllable (examples: beltà, perché, caffè, saprò, cantò, Città del Capo 🇿🇦)
    • five ‘piano’ words (come, contra, qualche, d/ove, sopra/sovra)
    • Religious names preceded by vowel (Dio: /od:dio/, /miod:dio/; dei, dee, dea)
    • Certain fixed names (Maria, etc.)

Often these phrasal doublings are spelled out, especially in the Italian we are accustomed to seeing in libretti:

  • a presto → appresto, a bastanza → abbastanza
  • da vero → davvero, da che → dacché
  • è vero → evvero
  • chi sa → chissà
  • lo saprò → (saprò lo) → saprollo (future tense)
  • mi mancò → (mancò mi) → mancommi (passato remoto)

Oh, and another thing…ASSIMILATION
We see patterns of assimilation in written Italian that reflect pronunciation. For example:

  • in-(not)+mobile = immobile
  • Gian+Battista = Giambattista

We must learn also to recognize those patterns when they are not written out but are honored in pronunciation:

  • un bacio /umbatʃo/, in petto /impɛt:to/
  • invece [iɱvetʃe], conforto /koɱfɔrto/ This sound is what we call a “chipmunk M/N” The mouth is in the position for V but it is a nasal consonant.

Attached is a phrasal doubling cheat sheet for you to save to your camera roll, as well as the phrasal doublings for the Vaccai lessons we have completed. Appresto..

Phrasal Doubling Cheat Sheet
Don’t miss your phrasal doublings!