When one studies both Latin and Greek, one of the most prominent differences between the two is the much greater number of double consonants in Latin. While Greek does have some instances of them, they are everywhere in Latin.

While the origin of some of their occurrences is straightforward to recognize (f.e. prefixes, ad+locare > allocare), others are not. They can appear in core words of the language, which aswe know are generally of native and not borrowed origin.

Cognate words in Greek (and other Indo-European languages) often lack the double consonants.

Examples: ferre, quattuor, vacca, pessimus, mittere, caballus

I was intrigued by this, as Indo-European itself did not have geminates and there is often no obvious reason for them to be geminates, what is most visible with quattuor (an obvious reason would be assimilation of a nearby phoneme, e.g. Latin septem > Italian sette). Thus, they evidently appeared in the language at some point. However, I have failed to find an explanation for this development, despite having consulted some specialized literature.

Has this issue been studied and the rules behind the occurrence of geminates in Latin been established by any scholar? As my research was not so extensive and Latin has been the object of intense study, I feel the need to ask.

  • 2
    In ferre and pessimus there is clearly a root and a suffix coming together, but I don't know about the others.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 16, 2020 at 22:08
  • 1
    Quattuor is from Proto-Italic *kʷettwōr (t duplicated preceding -w-), from Proto-Indo-European *kʷetwṓr. Note that the Ancient Greek cognate, τέσσαρες (téssares) also has the consonant doubled.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 17, 2020 at 2:17
  • 2
    Ferre has a germinate because it's the root fer- + the infinitive ending -re. The etymology of caballus is unknown but Greek καβάλλης has a geminate there as well. The regular geminate in pessimus may be the reason -issimus has an unexpected geminate in other superlatives by analogy, or it may be a case of expressive lengthening.
    – Cairnarvon
    Jul 17, 2020 at 2:54
  • 4
    @YellowSky The doubled consonant in Greek is not quite comparable: PIE *-tu̯- mostly (though not entirely) merges with *-kʷi̯-, becoming -σσ-/-ττ-, depending on dialect, but the gemination there is the outcome of the entire cluster; in Latin, the glide remains with an added gemination before it. Both end up with a geminate, but they take quite different routes to get there. Jul 17, 2020 at 22:03


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