There are languages that have consonants that are a bit longer in duration i.e. the same as long vowels (e.g. like /iː/). So a long consonant is represented by writing /ː/ after it: long L = /lː/, long S = /sː/ etc.

Now English syllable structure is believed to be CCCVCCCC as in /streŋkθs/ "strengths".

If some language has a a word in which there is a long consonant before/after the vowel, how do linguists represent it; C or CC? For example, suppose that the initial /s/ in "strengths" is long: [treŋkθs], would it be CCCVCCCC or CCCCVCCCC?

  • 2
    I think there's an underlying assumption that one would immediately know whether a consonant is short or long (single or geminate) just by encountering it, which is not the case. Some consonants are longer than others, some longer than a nucleus. I think we usually regard a consonant geminate only if it contrasts phonologically with a shorter one.
    – Nardog
    Apr 19 at 10:37

How they're best analysed depends on the language

In Korean, syllables are maximally CGVC where G is a glide, and either C can be tense, with the tense consonants sometimes viewed as long

Meanwhile, in Arabic, syllables are maximally CVC (or CVCC in pausa, or word-finally in most vernaculars) and long consonants only occur across syllable boundaries (or in pausa) and so are best analysed as a sequence of two consonants that happen to be identical


There are many theories of what a "long consonant" is: here are the main theories. One is that every consonant has a "timing slot", which can be notated as C (vowels are notated as V), and a long consonant has two C's. This is the CV theory of Clements & Keyser. An alternative is that there is no difference between C and V at the level of the timing slot, everything is just X, and a long consonant (or vowel) has two X's. This is the X-bar theory of Levin (→Blevins). A version of this is Hyman's weight theory which has a single unit (he uses "x"), but with the special proviso that segments can merge under a single x, thus [pa] might start with two x's, but end up with a single x that both segments associate to. This then morphs into moraic theory, where vowels and some consonants are associated to a "mora" notated as μ, and a long consonant is somehow connected to a mora. The details of that theory are not particular uniform, because it doesn't handle long consonants in the beginning of a syllable very well, but there are a number of proposal. Morén's (dissertation) proposal is simply that "is moraic" is how you represent long consonants, but whether or not there is obvious "length", thus sometimes a final moraic consonant is said to be "long" and sometimes it is said to be just "moraic" (being moraic is the fundamental linguistic variable).

There is, incidentally, a potential for a contrast between a long consonant and two adjacent identical consonants, the latter often being called "fake geminates". Arabic is a language that has "real" geminates (a consonant is lengthened in a certain verb form) but also "fake" geminates, where a stem ends with /t/ and a suffix begins with /t/ so you get /t+t/. I haven't seen any evidence that the t-sequence /falat-ta/ or similar form is pronounced differently from a second-measure derived geminate. The question of whether, in some dialects, /falat-t/ "I escaped" is phonetically [falat] or [falatt] (in pre-pausal or pre-consonantal position, in a non-epenthesis dialect) is not clearly established, but it is plausible that there is a phonetic difference.

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