Friday, 17 October 2008
Stress and accents
Stress gives more prominence to a syllable in terms of loudness, pitch or length.
In Italian there is no simple way to learn where the accent falls. Most words are stressed on the penultimate syllable (a syllable is a minimum combination of sounds). The punultimate syllable is the second one when doing the counting from the end:
DOMANI (tomorrow) has three syllables DO – MA - NI, and the stress falls on the penultimate syllable: MA
Accent marks are graphic signs that indicate where the stress fall.
As a general rule, Italian accents can either be grave (è) or acute (é).
Most words have grave accents, but the e in perché and né has an acute accent. Italian mother tongue speakers very rarely worry about the directions of their accents, unless they work as teachers or translators. Many journalists happily mix acute and grave accents without fear of being reprimanded.
If you can be forgiven for using the wrong accent, there is no excuse for not using it at all. One of the most common mistakes is not to use the accent when using the verb form è (is), as opposed to the conjunction e (and).
The accent is essential in the case of an omography, when words have the same spelling but different meaning. For instance:
"ne ho due" (I have two of them). In this case NE is a pronoun
"non ha né fame né sete" (he is neither hungry nor thirsty), where NE is an adverb