Italian as a "Pure" Language

David L. White dlwhite at
Mon Apr 2 19:46:29 UTC 2001

> Could you please define "dialect mixture"? How does this relate to Italian
> having a structrue where the orthography is matched by its phonetic system?

> Maria Anna Calamia
> University of Toronto

        Dialect mixture is when words in one dialect have the form that is
proper to another.  All or just about all dialects have it to some extent.
Italian, for example, has some cases of intervocalic voicing, though ths is
not in general characteristic of (Standard) Italian.  (It occurs in the
dialects of the Po Valley, and French, Spanich, and Portugese.)   I cannot
off the top of my head think of any examples from English, and perhaps the
problem is not significant after all, but it would arise if a word was
spelled in a way appropriate to the pronunciation of one dialect, but
pronounced as in another.  A great deal of dialect mixture went into the
formation of the London Standard.  A possible example (I don't know, someone
else out there probably does) might be things like "bead" versus "head",
where some words are spelled as if they have long vowels when in fact the
vowels have been shortened, or,  to put it from the other perspective, not
all vowels that might be expected to have been shortened actually have been.
        In any event, coming up with a series of rules that would correctly
predict the pronunciation of native (or pre-1500) words in English is a
problem, and probably the main one that derails children learning to read.
The Great Vowel Shift itself would not have created an unsolvable problem,
and it is perhaps more appropriate to say that it is the sub-cases that are
problematic.  For example, one could come up with a rule to say that "-ead"
is pronounced long after labials and nasals, which is at least a start (I
vaguely recall that there is no principled account of "ead"), but beyond a
point it becomes more efficient to simply memorize spellings, which is what
is traditionally done.  This disconnect seems to be what causes the greater
incidence of dislexia in English readers.  To what extent it is related to
dialect mixture (most of which in the present case amounts to differences of
dialectal opinion about matters related to the GVS) or sub-cases (again,
mostly related to the GVS) is not clear (to me).

Dr. David L. White

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