The "H" factor

Toscana! Ah sì, la Toscana! Ci ha dato Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio e "Hoha-Hola".

"Mi scusi, ma dove sono finite tutte le c?".

Questo fenomeno fonologico ha acquisito un po' di prestigio e il nome "gorgia toscana" o "gola toscana". L'edizione 2009 del "Vohabolario del vernaholo fiorentino e del dialetto toscano di ieri e di oggi" di Stefano Rosi è un libro divertente sul dialetto fiorentino e sulle sue caratteristiche uniche. In esso, Rosi descrive le regole della gorgia, permettendo al lettore una migliore comprensione del suono (e del perché a Firenze si dice "Hoha-Hola" e non Coca-Cola).

Tuscany! Ah yes, la Toscana. It gave us Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio and "Hoha-Hola." I never looked at a Coca-Cola bottle the same after hearing it said that way. It's a bit alarming when you hear it the first time, mostly because it seems a bit exaggerated. You begin to think, "Excuse me, but, where did the Cs go?"

This phonological phenomenon has acquired a bit of prestige and the name "la Gorgia Toscana" or "Tuscan Throat." Its title was concocted by those who looked down upon the Tuscan pronunciation in Italian; hence the not so elegant name. Its origin has been a controversial topic among scholars for many years. Many of the scholars who have voiced an opinion on the issue say that it comes from Etruscan influence. Etruscan, a language that existed prior to the dominance of Latin, was the tongue of the people who inhabited mainly present-day Tuscany and its outskirts. Some scholars favor the theory that the gorgia is a fairly recent phenomenon, developed post Dante Alighieri.

The first sure evidence we have on the gorgia, although it still remains a bit ambiguous, dates back to the sixteenth century in a work by Claudio Tolomei, an important Sienese philologist. The gorgia's most famous idiosyncrasy is the aspiration of the intervocalic (meaning between two vowels) C but the phenomenon includes intervocalic T and P. It is prevalently heard in and around Florence but the gorgia's characteristics slightly vary from town to town and in some parts of Tuscany it isn't applicable at all. In Florence however, you will hear native speakers say fiho instead of fico (fig) or diho instead of dico (I say). As for intervocalic T and P, you will hear staho (was) instead of stato and rapha instead of rapa (turnip). In cities like Pisa though, the C completely disappears, so that you don't hear it at all.

The 2009 edition of Vohabolario del vernaholo fiorentino e del dialetto toscano di ieri e di oggi by Stefano Rosi is a fun book that provides a great look inside the Florentine dialect and its unique elements. In one part, Rosi lays out the rules of the gorgia, which gives the reader a better understanding of the sound. The intervocalic C is usually aspirated when followed by the vowels A, O or U except in certain cases. Rosi provides examples of where the intervocalic C is actually pronounced instead of aspirated. For instance, he says that a C preceded by a preposition, conjunction or accent mark is un-aspirated, therefore, you would say "si va a cavallo" and not "si va a havallo." Other instances of the un-aspirated intervocalic C would be when it is followed by I or E and therefore one would say la Cina (China) and i ceci (Czechs) and not la hina or i hehi.

Now that we understand why it's Hoha-Hola and not Coca-Cola, will you ever look at it the same? As they say, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," but I suggest when in Florence, order your Hoha-Hola with a hannuccia horta (cannuccia corta, or "short straw.")