By Richard Coates
One of the reasons I prefer an americano to a latte is that it does less violence to the Italian language. The Italian word for ‘milk’ is pronounced with a short stressed vowel and a long medial voiceless consonant. So if we can pronounce pâté (though many would prefer not to mention it at all) as “pat-ay”, why can’t we take our coffee as a “lat-ay”? That would keep the vowel more or less Italian, and ruin the consonant only in the way we already ruin the long consonants in espresso, cappuccino and macchiato.
It looks as though we have America to blame, which is ironic in view of where we started this. Americans generally voice the medial consonant, resulting in some tensing and lengthening of the preceding vowel. This lengthened vowel then gets identified with the British English long low vowel, which is noticeably back (cardinal 5). Hey presto – the worst of all worlds: we don’t voice the consonant, but we’re lumbered with the consequences of someone else doing it.
You can always cop out with a café au lait – it takes a barista to know the difference. But the confusion is enhanced by adverts for café latte – half anglicized French and half americanized Italian. Enjoy your caffè autentico.