Phonetic variants for social variables: some remarks on labiovelars in Tuscany

Nadia Nocchi

University of Zurich, Switzerland


Phonetic variants for social variables:

some remarks on labiovelars in Tuscany

This paper will show the results of a sociophonetic analysis of the voiceless labiovelar segment as it is realised in the East and the Northwest side of Tuscany, precisely in the towns of Livorno and Rosignano Solvay for the Northwestern coast, and the village of Mercatale Val di Pesa for the Eastern part.

As far as Livorno is concerned, it has been maintained that [kw] is often produced as a labiodental fricative [v] in intervocalic position, as it occurs in the noun phrase [le kwat:ro] (four o’clock) becoming [le vat:ro] (Giannelli 20002). According to Marotta (1995), this particular phenomenon is triggered by the deletion of the plosive within the labiovelar: once [k] is deleted, the glide [w] reinforces its articulation and becomes a voiced labiodental fricative [v] as shown in the following scheme: (1) [kw] → [hw] → [w]→ [v].

As regards the development of the process in Rosignano Solvay, it does not take into account any phase of glide strengthening, since no labiodental realisation of the glide occurs; the process stops at an earlier stage, which entails that this area is more conservative than Livorno.

The lenition process takes an opposite direction in Eastern Tuscany, since [kw] looses its labial element before the plosive is lenited: (2) [kw] → [k] → [h]. For this reason, Stefanini (1970: 219) remarks that “[h] is both allophone of /kw/ and /k/ in Florentine”.

This study will present a sociophonetic analysis of the labiovelar segments: for each town three groups of four informants (two males and two females) of different age have been selected to obtain an amount of 36 speakers. The corpus has been elicited using the Map Task technique, with the two maps being entirely designed for our labiovelar’s sake.

For the speakers from the Northwestern side of Tuscany, the acoustic analysis has shown a wide range of allophonic realisations triggered by the lenition of the velar segment [k] which can be represented as follows:

[P] loss of [w] rounding

3) [kw]→ [xw] → [w]

[H] conservation of [w] rounding

Within the Northwestern area, the process [kw]  [v] seems to be more frequent within the spontaneous speech and affects more functional words than lexical ones. There is a difference tied to gender, since women do not produce [kw] as [v] which is perceived as a feature [- prestige, - overt, + stigmatised]. Young male generations show the higher percentage (29%) of labiodental realisation.

The data of Mercatale portray a different picture: the process [kw] [h] seems to be active only in the old generation (23%). As regards gender, men tend to show higher percentage of glide deletion, while women are more sensitive to the prestige factor, since they maintain the glide [w].


Giannelli, L. (2000)², Toscana, Pacini, Pisa.

Marotta, G. (1995), “Apocope nel parlato di Toscana”, SILTA XXIV/2: 297-322.

Stefanini, R. (1970), “Il comportamento di /kw/ in fiorentino”, in Mille: i dibattiti del circolo linguistico fiorentino: 219-222.

Session: POSTERS: Focus on variation, migration, minority languages
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 12:45-15:45
room: foyer