Is there a strong correlation between geminate consonants and initial-syllable stress, or stress in the earlier syllables of words?

A survey of European languages suggests that there might be such a correlation. For example, in Italian, where antepenultimate stress is common, geminate consonants are ubiquitous (fatto "done", troppo "too much", etc.). By contrast, geminates seem rare-to-absent in standard Spanish/Portuguese (which have more thoroughgoing penultimate/final stress) and French (which has mainly final stress).

Similarly, most Germanic languages had geminates at some point in their history (although many are no longer true phonetic geminates due to sound change), and initial-syllable stress was historically the norm in Germanic. Cf. English tap < Old Eng. tæppa, Icelandic tappi "cork, peg", German Zapfen "peg, pin", etc.

Thanks for any further insight into this issue.

  • Antepenultimate stress is not "the norm" in Italian.
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 9:20
  • Interesting theme for a survey study. I browsed the WALS survey (see wals.info/chapter ) and found a survey of stress patterns (§14), but no survey of geminate consonants. Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 9:23
  • @fdb Fair enough, I changed "the norm" to "common".
    – user8017
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 9:29
  • 1
    A further objection: You cannot claim that "most Germanic languages had geminates at some point in their history" without admitting that all Romance languages also had geminates "at some point in their history", namely in Latin.
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 9:44
  • 2
    Antepenultimate stress is hardly "stress in the earlier syllables of words" -- if anything, it's stress in the later syllables, because it's counted from the end, not the beginning. It's a real stretch to lump it in with initial stress as some kind of unitary category.
    – TKR
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 20:50

2 Answers 2


Let us stick with Italian and Spanish. Both of these have retained (broadly speaking) the position of the Latin accent. Italian has also retained Latin geminate consonants, as well as creating new geminates through the simplification of clusters (type: factum > fatto). Spanish, on the other hand, has lost all Latin geminates except for -rr-. So the two languages agree (mainly) with regards to the accent, but diverge with regards to geminates. This speaks loudly against the notion of a correlation between accent and gemination.

  • Maybe there is no correlation, but I don't think the case can be declared closed so quickly. It seems to me that Italian has significantly more antepenultimate-stressed words than Spanish, because 1) Italian has retained unstressed syllables that Spanish has deleted (It. popolo vs. Sp. pueblo, It. chiedere vs. Sp. querer), and 2) it has added final vowels that Spanish has not (It. chiedono vs. Sp. quieren).
    – user8017
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 11:43
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    @user8017, It is possible that there are more apu-stressed words in Italian than in Spanish. My point is that both pópolo and puéblo have retained the stress on the same syllable as pópulus. The position of the stress is determined by etymology, not by the phonological environment. Where the place of the stress differs, as in chiédere vs querér, this has a morphological rather than a phonological rationale (in this case: merger of the 2nd and 3rd conjugation).
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 18:40

There is a well-known indirect correlation between stress and gemination, because (1) heavy syllables tend to attract stress and (2) geminate consonants tend to make syllables heavy. The former correlation is frequently referred to as the Weight-to-Stress principle. The correlation between stress and syllable weight is so strong that it is used presumptively to establish the subtypology of syllable weight, where long vowels always make a syllable heavy, and coda consonants may. In moraic theory, it is generally held that autonomous coda consonants (part of a two-consonant cluster) may have an additional mora (long vowels always do), but the first half of a geminate always does. The pattern where geminates attract stress, while other CC clusters do not, turns out to be rather rare, appearing in Cahuilla, San`ani Yemeni Arabic, some dialects of Hindi and Pattani Malay (the latter, though, is quite bizarre since usually onset geminates do not cause syllables to behave as though they are heavy). Post-hoc analysis of the possibilities for stress and syllable weight correlation, in light of these factors that influence stress, actually reveals that geminate consonants tend to be treated exactly the same as autonomous CC clusters, so that geminates are not usually special, although there are a few languages where they are.

  • Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm not seeing how this bears on the question, which seems to be whether a language's having geminates at all is correlated with initial stress (not whether geminates attract stress). I also don't understand this sentence: "The correlation between stress and syllable weight is so strong that it is used presumptively to establish the subtypology of syllable weight, where long vowels always make a syllable heavy, and coda consonants may." Where does stress, as opposed to vowel length, come into the typology?
    – TKR
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 20:44
  • The question is unclear as to what is really at stake. If for example the question were "Does having word-initial stress cause gemination", then the answer is "no". There is a strong correlation between gemination and "early stress" -- rightward-looking stress rules are often stopped at a geminate. To the extent that stress is rule-governed, facts that govern stress attraction are relevant to where stress is. So certainly there is a construal of the question that is disfavorable to my answer. I didn't write the question, and it is unclear what the OP is really asking.
    – user6726
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 21:16
  • Fair enough. @user8017, are you asking whether the location of stress is related to the location of a geminate in a word, or whether the linguistic characters "language X has geminates" and "language X has initial/early stress" are correlated?
    – TKR
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 21:20

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