Summary and Keywords
The phonology of Italian is subject to considerable variability both at the segmental and at the prosodic level. Changes affect different features of the phonological system such as the composition of the inventory of phonemes and allophones, the phonotactic patterning of phonemes, and their lexical distribution. On the prosodic level, the variability takes the form of a composite collection of intonational patterns. In fact, the classification of intonational contours in geographical varieties appears fuzzier and less precise than the traditional division into geographical areas based on segmental features.
The reasons for the high variability must be traced back, on the one hand, to the rapid and recent standardization and, on the other hand, to the prolonged contact with Romance dialects of Italy. Variation in Italian phonology can be traced back to two main dimensions: A geographic dimension, accounting for a large proportion of the total variability, and a social dimension that regulates variety-internal variation.
The overall picture can be understood as a combination of vertical and horizontal sociolinguistic forces. Horizontal dynamics is responsible for the creation of a pluricentric standard, that is, a multiplicity of models of pronunciation that could be considered as geographical versions of the standard. Vertical dynamics brings about the formation of new norms at a local level and, most important, it generates a continuum of dialects ranging from the (regional) standard to the most local variety. Moving along this vertical continuum from the standard down to the local variety, there is an increasing of variability that represents a source for the emergence of social and stylistic values.
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