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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 in phonetics
Geminated fricatives, nasals, approximants, and trills are simply prolonged. In geminated stops, the "hold" is prolonged. Geminates are usually around one time and a half or two times as long as a short consonants. This depends on the language.
History of the term
Originally, gemination was something different from mere consonant length. In 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 homonym for 'long consonant'.
Gemination can also be a purely spelling phenomenon, as in English words like "running" where there is no lengthening of the consonant in actual speech.
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 the Swedish language or the Italian language, consonant gemination and vowel length depend on each other. That is to say, a short vowel must be followed by a long consonant (geminate), whereas a long vowel must be followed by a short consonant.
Distinctive gemination is usually restricted to certain consonants. There are only very few languages that have initial gemination, e.g. Pattani Malay or Alemannic.
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