Calling all Italians

Ok, help me solve a little puzzle.

This concerns the Italian language and how certain words are pronounced. Now, among the Latin-based languages (French, Spanish, Italian, etc), all of the letters are pretty much pronounced when saying a word (with of course exceptions to the rule) correct? At least that is how I learned it when taking Spanish and French classes in high school, Generally speaking, every letter within a given word is enunciated.

Now, my question for the Italian folk out there is why do some pronounce (let’s say) the word mozzarella like “mutzerell” and dropping off the last vowel. Yet others pronounce it essentially as it’s written making sure that last vowel is spoken? Now, I don’t mean butchering the word like a person who doesn’t know Italian would. I’m talking the old-school back-in-the-country Italians here. I had a great deal of Italian friends growing up (damn I miss staying at their houses for the massive multi-course multi-hour dinners) and I’d say it’s about an even split to how each spoke certain words. One group would tend to say words with the left out last vowel and others would pronounce it.

Let’s say I was over my friend Nick’s house (his mom made the BEST bacalao) for dinner. His family would make sure to pronounce every letter and keep that last vowel while they were talking to each other and speaking to me in Italian. Of course I told them I didn’t speak Italian, but they didn’t care. I was always talked to in Italian and just looked to my friend Nick to translate. Luckily, it’s a great deal similar to Spanish so I could understand some of it if they spoke slowly enough… Anyway, I’m drifting off the subject here.

When I asked him about why other friends’s families spoke with that “leaving off the last vowel,” way he’d simply remark, “They’re not real Italians” and his mom would go into a fit about the language being butchered like that.

Now, when I went to my friend Joe’s house for dinner, they would speak in the other way. They’d drop off the last vowel of just about every word and no one thought any less of it. Luckily, his dad knew English so I was always chilling with Joe and his dad watching the Giants games every Sunday. I then asked Joe Sr. (his dad) about the whole dropping the last vowel thing and he said that was the proper Italian. Then I brought up how my friend Nick’s family all spoke and kept that last vowel and he simply stated “They’re not real Italians.”

Obviously, I was very confused though I grew to accept that certain Italians spoke one way and others spoke a different way without putting much thought into it ever again. Until that is, a few days ago.

While on my way home from work, I was listening to the radio and that subject came up again. When people called up to clarify the point, it seemed again that those who spoke a certain way believed they were speaking authentic Italian and that the other group was speaking some bastardized form of the language.

Again, the childhood memories I had of spending time at my friends’ families houses came back to me. Though this time, I figured that perhaps it has to do with the region of Italy you are in that the language differences are made clear. There’s a bunch of countries where this phenomenon takes place so I am wondering if it’s perhaps simply dependent on the region of Italy where this difference has it’s roots.

So does the region where your family is from contribute to how you speak Italian? Has anyone out there ever noticed this as well? Do you get confused? And how the hell do you pronounce mozzarella anyway?

4 replies on “Calling all Italians”

I suspect it is regional, and it may even be a north-south thing. I’m 3rd generation Italian, so my family’s Italian was always butchered by the years they lived in Brooklyn, but they always pronounced it “mutzerell,” which is how I say it. From what I know of Italy, you can go from one village to another 10 miles down the road and hear a completely different dialect spoken.

The whole “they’re not real Italians” thing definitely sounds like the north-south issue. My grandmother’s parents came from Palermo, in Sicily and her husband came from Mantova in northern Italy. She was always disdainful of my grandfather’s heritage, believing that Sicilians were the real Italians.

it’s defintely regional and there are different dialects for each reigon. sicilians speak an italian almost completely different from mainland italians.

Interesting — my wife who is from Queens but was born in Brooklyn always says “mutzerell” and “manigott”. She’s actually Jewish but says she always heard the words that way growing up. I think it is the Sicilian way of talking…


Thanks for the information all! Looking back at it, I think Joe’s family was indeed from Sicily.

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