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? Dec 11 '17 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. Dec 11 '17 at 23:52
  • But how do you know they were pronounced separately? Or maybe you just mean that you pronounce them separately.
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 12 '17 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/ Dec 12 '17 at 21:36

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.
    – OmarL
    Dec 11 '17 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
    Dec 11 '17 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
    Dec 11 '17 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). Dec 12 '17 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
    Dec 12 '17 at 20:32

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