The Furlan Alphabet

The most important point to keep in mind regarding the standardized Furlan alphabet is that the letters may represent different sounds in different dialects. There is a notion, suggested more or less strongly by several commentators on the language, that the new standardized alphabet exists alongside a corresponding standard pronunciation, that, for example, there is a standard way of pronouncing the letter ç in Friulian. This is wrong. While it is true that the basis of the new alphabet is the so-called literary koiné that developed in the 19th century, which was indeed based on the particular dialect of a restricted linguistic zone, the main benefit of the new system is that it was developed with the understanding that all Furlan speakers would be using it, that they would all need to express their own language in the words they write and recognize it in what they read.

To this end, the following charts will attempt to explain what the letters of the standardized alphabet represent in four broadly generalized but distinct dialect groups.

I have somewhat arbitrarily chosen four general dialect areas to represent in the following charts. The three broadest groupings are the Central dialect (on which the writing system is based), the Western (to the west of the Tagliamento River), and the Carnic (in the northern mountains). With these I have included that spoken in the area centred on the town of Codroipo along the east bank of the Tagliamento: for one thing, I can't resist the symmetry it brings to the charts (see below), and for another it just happens to be the dialect I'm most familiar with. (There are other dialects, some of which are extremely interesting from a linguistic point of view (for example, there are isolated valleys where feminine nouns and adjectives are marked by a final -o), but I'm afraid I can't cover them all. For a wonderfully thorough account of them all see Giovanni Frau's excellent Friuli (Pisa: Pacini editore, 1984), volume six in the series Profilo dei dialetti italiani edited by Manlio Cortelazzo.)

The Alphabet

The Alphabet consists of ten vowels, five of which are standard,

a e i o u

and five of which are “long”,

â ê î ô û

and the following consonants:

b c (ç) d f g h j l m n p q r s t v x z


Basic Vowels

The basic vowels are the same throughout Friuli (with one important exception -- see below), and are pretty much the same as those in Italian:

a The [a] sounds more or less like the English exclamation “Ah!”
e Depending on the word, this letter can represent two slightly different sounds, one more relaxed and open, the other tenser and more closed. But these sounds are not distinguished in writing, and so for our purposes interpreting this letter as a simple short e (as in the English word “bet”) should suffice.
i The [i] in Furlan has the same English “ee” sound that it does in the words pizza and machine.
o Like e, this letter can represent two subtly different sounds. The more relaxed one is almost like the o of the English word hot when pronounced with rounded lips (i.e., not like the American hot that sounds to others like hat); the tenser vowel is almost like that of the English grow as pronounced by North Americans, but without the pronounced w sound at the end. As with the e, however, the distinction here is too subtle for us to worry much about at this point.
u The [u] has the same sound that “oo” does in the English word loot.

As far as these short vowels are concerned, there is very little significant variation among the dialects of Furlan. The one important exception is the standard final vowel marking feminine nouns and adjectives. Following the pronunciation of central Friuli, the writing system uses -e:

la biele lune (“the beautiful moon”)

but for many Furlans (typically those in the west and in Carnia) this final vowel is -a:

la biela luna.

Unless this regional pronunciation needs to be represented explicitly, the standard orthography always uses -e.

Note: those of us used to the silent final e's of English and French should remember that a final -e in Furlan is always pronounced: lune may have only one syllable in French, but it has two in Furlan!


The vowels i and u can pair with another vowel to form a diphthong, that is, a combination of two vowel sounds smushed together in one syllable, as in cuet (cooked) and biel (beautiful). In such combinations the u is more like an English w and the i is more like an English y (the previous words sound like “kwet” and “byel”, not like “koo-et” and “bee-el”). Unless marked otherwise, the vowel other than i or u bears the accent, whether it follows the i or u, as in the examples above, or precedes it, as in frait (decayed), claut (nail), which sound like the US and UK (but not quite the Canadian!) pronunciations of the English words "fright" and "clout". In other words, the i or u of a diphthong should always be treated like a glide towards or off the main vowel, and not as a distinct vowel in itself.
Sometimes i and u can both combine with a vowel to form a triphthong: in vueit (empty) the three vowels are pronounced like the English word "way".

Long Vowels

The letters â, ê, î, ô and û represent different sounds in different dialects. Sometimes these sounds are indeed long vowels, that is, vowels that are basically just held for a longer duration than the corresponding short vowels, without a perceptible change in the sound of the vowel itself; in some dialects, however, what are written as "long" vowels are actually pronounced as diphthongs.

The long â is the only vowel that is never a diphthong in any of the Friulian dialects; in the West it is usually not long at all--it is pronounced exactly like the basic a; in the other dialects it sounds the same as the a but is held longer.

To illustrate the various pronunciations of the other “long” vowels, here are the pronunciations of the words sêt (thirst), pît (foot), pôc (little) and fûc (fire) in each of the four dialects:

êsêt [seit][se:t][seit][se:t]
î pît[peit][peit][pi:t][pi:t]
ô pôc[pouk][po:k][pouk][po:k]
û fûc[fouk][fouk][fu:k][fu:k]

(For the pronunciations [seit], [peit], [pouk] and [fouk] the equivalents in North American English might be “sate,” “pate,” “poke” and “foke”, while the equivalents of [pi:t] and [fu:k] might be “peeet” and “foook”. The pronunciations [se:t] and [po:k] are harder to represent in English -- the vowels are like the short vowels but held longer.)

Note that in the Western and Codroipo dialects not all instances of î and û are pronounced as diphthongs. For example, both dialects have simple vowels in the words fîl (thread) and mûr (wall).

A very interesting case is that of the word mûr, which can have two meanings: “wall” and “(it) dies”. As the spelling suggests, these two words are pronounced exactly the same in central Friuli, but in Codroipo they have distinct pronunciations: while the first word is [mu:r], the second is [mour], so the sentence, Al mûr sul mûr (“It dies on the wall”) is pronounced in Codroipo as [al mour sul mu:r].


Many consonants are straightforward: they represent the sounds you'd expect them to represent, and they do so in all circumstances and in all dialects. These consonants include:

b, d, f, l, m, p, r, t

The r is like the Italian or Scottish “rolled” r.

The consonants k, w, and x are only used in words borrowed from other languages.

Most other consonants are fairly straightforward too, but require some explaining:

hThe h is always silent; its only purpose is to show that a preceding c or g should have a “hard” sound. See the special boxes on c and g below.
jExcept when used in the digraphs cj and gj (see below), the letter j represents the sound of the English letter y. In the new standardized spelling system this letter is only used at the beginning of words; between vowels and at the end of words the letter i is used instead. (In other spelling systems the letter j can appear anywhere in a word.)
nThe n sounds like an English n most of the time, but when it occurs at the end of a word it is nasalized, sounding like a very brief English -ng ending, so that the word bon (good) sounds somewhat like a very quick pronunciation of the English word “bong”. If the word is a noun and is pluralized, the nasalized sound is maintained even with the addition of the -s, so that tons (thunderclaps) sounds like a very quick “tongs”. The n of the prefix in- is also often nasalized, so that if the prefix is attached to a stem beginning with another n the two are pronounced differently: innomenât (famous) is pronounced as though it were “ing-nomenât”.
(See also the section on gn, below.)
qThe new official spelling system has done away with the letter q except in traditional proper names, so that “fourth” is now cuart (not quart), but the ancient city remains Aquilee.
sThis sounds like a standard English s except when it comes between two vowels, in which case it sounds like an English z. If the standard s sound is needed between vowels, the s is doubled: casse (case) has the standard s sound, while cjase (house) has the sound of the English z. (In some dialects the s can represent the sound of English sh, but this sound isn't represented in the standard spelling system.)
vIn most circumstances this letter sounds like the English v, but in some dialects it becomes silent when followed by a diphthong beginning with i or u, so that viodi (see) sounds as though it were jodi, and vueit (empty) as though it were ueit (like the English “wait”).

Lis Letaris Teribilis: C, G, Z

That leaves the consonants c, g and z. These letters, and the sounds they represent, have been the source of decades of perplexity, debate, frustration, and acrimony in the little world that is Furlan philology. The various writing systems used for Furlan over the years have differed chiefly in their treatment of these sounds, and the stubborn flouting of the new standard system by some diehard supporters of other systems shows that the issue has not yet been resolved completely.
The new standard spelling system handles the sounds (rather well, I think) in the following manner:


The letter c has the hard “k” sound of the English “cat” except when it is followed by e, i or j. The letter h is used after the c if the hard sound is needed before an e or i, as in chel (“that”, pronounced like “kell”) and chi (“here”, sounds like the English word “key”).

ce / ci / ç

When followed by e or i, or when it has the form ç, the letter c is softened, but what exactly it becomes depends on dialect. In Central Friuli and in Carnia it behaves like the Italian c, i.e. it sounds like the English “ch” of “church”; in western Friuli and most of the larger towns, however, it behaves like the French (and Portuguese and English) c, i.e. it sounds like an “s”. So the Furlan for “five hundred slippers”, cinc-cent çavatis, is pronounced by some Furlans as “cheenk chent chavàteece” and by others as “seenk sent savàteece”.
(It's worth mentioning that there is a small area in western Friuli where the c behaves like the Castilian c, i.e. it sounds like the English “th” before e or i. As well, there are areas where this c has the [ts] sound of z in pizza, so that place sounds like “platse”.)


How the letter-combination cj is pronounced is directly related to the pronunciation of ce and ci. In those dialects where c softens to English “ch” before e and i, the combination cj represents a sound that has been called “pre-palatal”, “post-palatal” or just “palatalized” by various writers. Whatever the name, the sound is difficult to pronounce for a non-native speaker (especially an English-speaker), and almost as difficult to describe. It's a sound that's somewhere between the “k” sound of “key” and the “t” sound of “tee”: if you compare where your tongue touches the roof of your mouth in making each of these sounds, and then try making the surface (not the tip!) of your tongue touch half-way in-between, you might produce a sound close to the one we're talking about. (To represent this sound specifically I'll use kj from here on.)
If you're not familiar with the sound or are having trouble producing it, don't worry -- half of Friuli doesn't use it either: in those areas where c softens to “s” before e and i, the combination cj represents the basic “ch” sound of the English “church”.

In summary:

Central Friuli
& Carnia
Western Friuli
& Towns
cclame, alc, chelk
cjcjan, ducjkjEnglish “ch”
c(e) / c(i) / çcent, cinc,
çavate, braç
English “ch”s

One consequence of this difference in dialects is that two completely different words can sound exactly the same if spoken by different people: the words cjoc (“drunk”) as pronounced in the Western dialect and çoc (“log”) in the Central are both like the English “chock”. Of course it's only when people from different dialect areas meet that there is any possibility of confusion: within each dialect the words are clearly distinct (as “kjock” and “chock” in the Central dialect, and as “chock” and “sock” in the West).


Unless followed by e, i, j or n, the letter g in Furlan always has the hard sound of English “gum”. In practice, g is rarely followed by e or i, at least in the new standard system. As is the case with c, the letter g is followed by h when the hard sound is needed before e or i: aghe (“water”), aghis (“waters”).

ge / gi

In theory, these letter combinations should probably never occur in the new spelling system: if you encounter them at all they will likely be mistakes for either ze / zi, or gje / gji. In either case the writer probably intended the soft “g” sound (or the English “j” sound) of “gem” (or “jet”).


The combination gj is the voiced counterpart to cj: in Central and northern Furlan it bears the same relation to the initial sounds of “geek” and “deep” that cj does to “key” and “tee” -- it's somewhere in-between (and will be represented as [gj]). And just as Western and urban Furlan dialects use English “ch” for cj, so do they use the English “j” (as in “judge”) for gj.


The combination gn represents the same sound in Furlan that it does in Italian (and that ñ does in Spanish and nh does in Portuguese): a close English counterpart would be the “ny” sound in the middle of ”onion” and “opinion”. Unlike Italian, Furlan can use this sound at the end of words: bogn (“good” plural), though in some dialects this terminal -gn sounds like -in (boin) rather than a true gn sound.


The z has traditionally been a multi-use letter in Friulian. This is still true today, though its role is nowhere near as varied now as it was in at least one of the older spelling systems, where it seemed to represent just about every other sound in the language. In general use, the z represents the sound of “j” in English “judge” in those dialects where gj represents [gj], and the sound of English “z” where gj represents English “j”. So Zovins a zuin in zenâr (“Youths are playing in January”) is “jovings a jooing in jenàhr” in Central Friuli and Carnia, but “zovings a zooing in zenàhr” in the West and urban areas.
The letter z is treated differently when used in words like lezion (“lesson”) and nazion (“nation”), where for some it represents the [ts] sound that is found in “pizza” and “Mozart”, for others (mainly in the West) a simple “s” sound (as though the words were “lession” and “nassion”).
There are other words where z is pronounced by some either as [ts] or [dz], and by others as “s” or English “z”, but the variants are too great and the cases too individual to devote time to here. Should you ever be unsure of the pronunciation of a z, just consider it an English z and move on quickly.

In summary:

Central Friuli
& Carnia
Western Friuli
& Towns
gglesie, agheg
gjgjatgjEnglish “j”
zzovinEnglish “j”English “z”
ni of onion
ni of onion or in


In the following chart I have attempted to show how words containing a representative sample of regionally-marked pronunciations are pronounced in each of the four dialects under discussion. The words selected are:

vôs, sêt
cûr, pît
cjan, gjat
cinc, zovin

The pronunciations should be clear enough, based on what's already been said, though I've used the Italian forms ci and gi to represent the sounds of “church” and “judge”, respectively.

[vous], [seit]
[ku:r], [pi:t]
[kjan], [gjat]
[cink], [giovin]
[kour], [peit]
[cian], [giat]
[sink], [zovin]
[vo:s], [se:t]

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