Ignoring languages such as spanish that distinguish between /ɾ/ and /r/, as such is not what I refer to, are there any languages that would differentiate between say, /p/ and /ppp/. It is a weird concept, but it is something that came to mind. I suppose, with the example I have in mind, the stammer would be realized as [pĭpĭpĭ], if that helps. Recalling back on the first, differentiating between /ɾ/ and /ɾĭɾĭɾĭ/ would be what I am referring to.

I suppose the simplest example would be languages such as latin that use(d) double consonants to differentiate. e.g. anvs, [anus] (ring) vs. annvs, /an.nus~anənʊs~anːus/ (year.)

  • 2
    I have never read of Latin having [nən] as an allophone of /nn~nː/. Why do you say it did? Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 20:15
  • That was creative liberty, because the two nasal plosives are pronounced separately. It kind of sounds like a schwa, but I know it is not. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 23:52
  • But how do you know they were pronounced separately? Or maybe you just mean that you pronounce them separately.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 20:38
  • Technically we can't even be 100% sure that ⟨nn⟩ wasn't pronounced as /q/ in the most obscure dialects, but pronounced separately, I do pronounce them separately. I would imagine they merged into being pronounced as a single long consonant at some point. Creative liberty in expression. That is why I wrote /n.n/ then wrote /nə̆n/. I intended them to be the same pronunciation. I have never really thought of /nn/ like in the english "unnamed" as two separate consonants, but one that is being restressed -- that's why I prefer /n.n/ or /nə̆n/ Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 21:36

1 Answer 1


Gemination of consonants (and long vowels) as a sound phonologically distinct from single consonants (or short vowels) is a feature common to many languages.

Here is a selection of minimal pairs of words distinguished by consonant length:

Cairene Arabic

  • حَمَام /ħa.maːm/ "dove; pigeon"
  • حَمَّام /ħam.maːm/ "bathroom"

Note: some pairs of words may appear to be minimal pairs orthographically, but often have different vowels:

  • مدرسة /mad.ra.sa/ "school"
  • مدرّسة /mu.dar.ri.sa/ "female teacher"


  • imi /imi/ "mouth"
  • immi /immi/ "mother"


  • আটা /ˈät̺ä/ "flour"
  • আটটা /ˈät̺t̺ä/ "eight (of something)"


  • gala /ˈɡa.ɫə/ "Show in a festival; party"
  • gal·la /ˈɡaɫ.ɫə/ "Gallic; Gaulish person (fem.)"


  • unaimed [ʌnˈeɪmd]
  • unnamed [ʌnˈneɪmd]


  • takka [ˈtakːa] / [ˈtakka] "fireplace"
  • taka [ˈtaka] "back"


In French, consonant length is usually not distinctive, but in certain exceptional cases it can be:

  • courons [kuʁɔ̃]
  • courrons [kuʁːɔ̃]

Ganda / Luganda

  • -kapa /kapa/ "coarse" (suffix)
  • kkapa /kːapa/ "cat"

Ancient Greek

  • μέλω [mélɔː] "I am of interest"
  • μέλλω [mélːɔː] "I am going to"

Cypriot Greek

  • πολύ [poˈli] "very"
  • πολλοί [polˈli] "a lot"

Hindi; Urdu

  • पता ; پتہ /pəˈt̻ä/ "address"
  • पत्ता ; پتہ /pət̻ˈt̻ä/ "leaf"


  • megy [ˈmɛɟ] "goes"
  • meggy [ˈmɛɟː] "sour cherry"


  • 来た (きた, /kita/) "came; arrived"
  • 切った (きった, /kitta/) "cut; sliced"


  • saki /saki/ "sacks, bags"
  • ssaki /sːaki/ "mammals"


  • ਸਤ [sət̪] "truth" (liturgical)
  • ਸੱਤ [sət̪ː] "seven"


  • подержать [pədʲɪrˈʐatʲ] "to hold"
  • поддержать [pəddʲɪrˈʐatʲ] "to support"


  • ata /aˈta/ "predecessor; forefather"
  • atta /aˈtːa/ "horse" (singular locative)


  • мана mɑnɑ "delusion"
  • манна mɑnnɑ "manna; semolina"

Some languages even have examples of 3-way consonant length distinction:


  • bunde [b̥ɔnə] "bottoms"
  • bundne [b̥ɔnnə] "bound" (pl.)
  • bundene [b̥ɔnn̩nə] "the bottoms"


  • lina /linɑ/ "sheet" (short)
  • linna /linːɑ/ "town" [gen. sg.] (long)
  • linna /linːːɑ/ "town" [ine. sg.] (overlong)

Note: In the following languages, they are not true minimal pairs, since the stress shifts from the preceding vowel to the consonant giving a two-way distinction:

Standard Italian

  • beve /ˈbeːve/ "he/she drinks/is drinking"
  • bevve /ˈbevːe/ "he/she drank"


  • ānus /ˈaː.nus/ "ring; anus"
  • annus /ˈan.nus/ "year"


  • måte /moːtə/ "method"
  • måtte /motːə/ "had to"


  • håla /'hoːla/ "deep hole; cave"
  • hålla /'holːa/ "hold; grip"


  • I seem to remember there was some Ugric language (was it Voro, or Pitesami?) which had as many as four length distinctions. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 19:19
  • In Cherente, a S. American language, "a cough" is /da-kka/ (the /da-/ is a prefix used with a thing that is possessed). Cherente is also spelled Xerente or Sherente.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 19:50
  • Finno-Ugric transcription encompasses something like 8 length differences. Contrastiveness is a very different thing, and analysis is especially different. The most famous example is Estonian, which Lehiste has shown is not about 3 degrees of length, it's about two intersecting things which have a two-way distinction.
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 20:20
  • 1
    The Hindi example isn't a minimal pair. पता/پتہ (patā) has a laminal dento-alveolar plosive [t̻], while पट्टा/پٹہ (paṭṭā) has an apical post-alveolar/'retroflex' plosive [t̠~ʈ]. Also, I have never really heard of the word पट्टा/پٹہ for 'band', it is usually पट्टी/پٹی (paṭṭī). Instead, पता/پتہ (patā = address) contrasts with पत्ता/پتہ (pattā = leaf). Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 19:43
  • @ColinFine ah true, I will amend the answer to clarify. There are a few others that are only minimal pairs in some dialects, and are further distinguished by vowel quality in others.
    – iacobo
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 20:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.