From Academic Kids

In phonetics, gemination is when a spoken consonant is "doubled", so that it is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a "single" consonant. The term comes from the word geminus, Latin for "twin".

Gemination is distinctive in certain languages, for instance Italian, Japanese, Arabic and Finnish. Most languages don't have distinctive geminates (like English).


Gemination in phonetics

Geminated fricatives, nasals, approximants, and trills are simply prolonged. In geminated stops, the "hold" is prolonged. Geminates are usually around one and a half or two times as long as a short consonants, depending on the language.

History of the term

Originally, gemination was something different from mere consonant length. At the end of the 19th century, German phoneticians thought that a long consonant that follows a checked vowel would have two peaks of intensity, whereas other long consonants would have only one. Therefore, these double-peaked long consonants were called geminates.

The hypothesis of the two peaks of intensity was abandoned because it could not be confirmed by measurements. Nowadays, the term geminate is a synonym for 'long consonant'.

The term is occasionally applied to vowels.


In written language, gemination is often indicated by writing a consonant twice ("ss", "kk", "pp", etc.), but can also be indicated with a special symbol, such as the shadda in Arabic.

Gemination can also be a spelling phenomenon, as in English words like "running" where there is no lengthening of the consonant in actual speech. However, consonants in English are often doubled in writing to indicate that the preceding vowel is 'short', as in "tapping" (from "tap"), which is distinct from "taping" (from "tape").

In English

In the English phonology, gemination is not distinctive. Phonetic gemination occurs marginally. It is found where a root-word is preceded by another root or a prefix ending with the same letter or sound that the second root begins with. Examples: "homemade," "screenname," "flat-top," "misspell," "unknown," "interrelated," "innumerable", "irredeemable." It is also found when the suffix -ly follows a root ending in -l or -ll. Examples: "fully", "evilly", "dully", "foully." Naturally, it also occurs over word boundaries: "I'll learn", "some money", "with things".

In most instances, the absence of this doubling does not affect the meaning, though it may confuse the listener momentarily. Notable examples where the doubling does affect the meaning are the pairs "unaimed" versus "unnamed", and "holy" versus "wholly".

In other languages

In languages such as Swedish or Italian, consonant gemination and vowel length depend on each other. That is, a short vowel must be followed by a long consonant (geminate), whereas a long vowel must be followed by a short consonant.

In other languages, such as Finnish or Japanese, consonant gemination and vowel length are independent from each other. In Finnish, gemination is phonemic, such that tuullen, tullen, tuulen, tulen, etc. are different, unrelated words. It is also affected by consonant gradation.

Distinctive gemination is usually restricted to certain consonants. There are very few languages that have initial gemination, e.g. Pattani Malay or some specific Alemannic dialects in Switzerland, for example Thurgovian. Also, in spoken Finnish, geminates are produced between words by sandhi effects.

See also



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