L’alfabeto telefonico (The telephone alphabet)
Speaking on the phone in a foreign language can be quite a challenge. As Marika spells out in a lesson for beginners about the alphabet, Italians use the names of cities (for the most part) when they need to be crystal clear in spelling a name or a word.
The Italian way is to use the name of a city directly, leaving out the letter itself completely, once it’s clear you’re using this system. Notice how Marika does it, as she makes a phone reservation for a friend. The person taking the call asks her to spell the name, or fare lo spelling (to do the spelling). Spelling is a word taken pari pari (exactly as it is) from the English, except that it’s used as a noun, with its article lo.
Claudia Rossi. -Mi può fare lo spelling?
Claudia Rossi. -Can you spell that for me?
Sì, certo! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.
Yes, of course! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.
Captions 12-16, Marika spiega - Fare lo spellingPlay Caption
The spelling for Yabla would be: ipsilon, Ancona, Bologna, Livorno, Ancona.
Here’s the complete list of the cities generally used for spelling:
• A: Ancona
• B: Bologna
• C: Como
• D: Domodossola
• E: Empoli
• F: Firenze
• G: Genova
• H: acca, or hotel
• I: Imola
• J: i lunga, or Jolly, Jersey
• K: kappa
• L: Livorno
• M: Milano
• N: Napoli
• O: Otranto
• P: Palermo
• Q: Quarto, Quadro
• R: Roma
• S: Savona
• T: Torino
• U: Udine
• V: Varese, Venezia
• W: vu doppia, doppia vu, or Washington
• X: ics, or di raggi x (x rays)
• Y: ipsilon, y greca, or di Yacht, di York
• Z: zeta or Zara
Learn to spell your name and address using the alfabeto telefonico! Some of these cities, such as Udine, Otranto, Imola, Empoli, and Napoli are pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. Domodossola is accented on the third syllable. Domodossola happens to be one of the important frontiere (border crossings) on the train line between Italy and Switzerland. Pronunciation aids along with the list (with some alternate city names) can be found here. Knowing what cities to associate with letters is especially handy if you intend to travel in Italy, so memorizing this list can be fun and useful.