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  2.1 Vowels and consonants

We are going to use again and again the term vowel and consonant in this manual, so it is a good idea to clarify the meaning of these terms. We call vowels all the sounds produced without any interruption of the stream of air by the teeth, lips, tongue, uvula. The letters a/e/i/o/u/au/ou/ei are vowels, but that doesn't mean that there are only eight vowels. We are going to see that one grapheme, the presentation of a sound (phoneme) in the writing, can stand for several sounds, and the same sound can be presented with different graphemes. The o for example presents, particularly in Italian, two sounds, an open and a closed o. The rest of sounds or phonemes, are called consonants. They are produced by interrupting the stream of air with the teeth, lips, tongue or uvula. In the writing they are represented with b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z. But remember what we have already said about the vowels. From the writing we can't conclude how many consonants actually exist because one letter can represent several sounds and the same sound can be represented by different letters. The s for instance represents two different sounds in Italian, a voiceless and voiced s.

However, if that were the only difference between a vowel and a consonant it wouldn't be worth to talk about it. Vowels are important because with consonants only it is impossible to speak. A vowel allows the tongue to get back in a position from where a new consonant can be produced. There may be some examples in some languages for more than three following consonants, but in general it is not possible to pronounce more than three following consonants.

  that is still possible to pronounce: str (strange, strong etc.)
  and that can' t be pronounced : strb, strm, strt, strp etc.

On the following pages we will show the pronunciation of vowels and consonants in Italian. Most of them should not be too difficult for English speakers.

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