According to Georgian: A Reading Grammar by Howard I. Aronson, Georgian has many "harmonic clusters" consisting of two consonants pronounced with only a single release. (The consonants must be stops or affricates, I guess, but the distinction between stops, affricates, and fricatives in Georgian is something I don't understand very well since it seems that some phonemes can be rendered in multiple ways.)

The examples he gives, which are supposed to be exhaustive, are as follows (using the official romanization: apostrophe to denote ejectives, q to denote a uvular or thereabouts stop or affricate or fricative, and kh/gh to denote an unvoiced/voiced probably post-velar affricate or fricative):

bg, dg, dzg, jg
pk, tk, tsk, chk
p'k', t'k', ts'k', ch'k'

bgh, dgh, dzgh, jgh
pkh, tkh, tskh, chkh
p'q', t'q', ts'q', ch'q'

My question is how these clusters are actually produced (and more generally whether Aronson's description is correct). It seems impossible to literally have a single release. What I suspect is meant is that the tongue starts with two points of contact against the roof of the mouth, but at the forward point it is held against the mouth rather loosely so that when the back stop releases the released air almost immediately causes the front stop to release.

It happens so fast that the releases are perceived as simultaneous and the writing system even puts the front stop first. I think I can produce such an effect when only stops are involved, but I find it hard to apply this theory to the clusters in the fourth and fifth lines above (those involving kh and gh).

  • I believe it does in fact mean that there is only one release and sometimes the intermediate sounds are even glossed over to some degree. I'm sure I read this recently if not in Aronson then in one of the other more thorough textbooks on Georgian or perhaps some paper I Googled up when looking for something else. I had the impression that the concept was something traditionally in Georgian grammars though rather than something Aronson came up with. Commented Aug 27, 2013 at 18:57
  • 1
    For sure, hippietrail, I didn't mean to give the impression I thought harmonic clusters were a notion Aronson had come up with himself. But others may explain them differently from him, and since I was basing my question on information I got from his book, I referred it to him.
    – user39080
    Commented Aug 27, 2013 at 19:08
  • Oh sorry I also didn't mean to imply you did think that, I just wanted to include that I thought they were an old concept but I didn't choose my words very well. Commented Aug 27, 2013 at 19:19
  • I think that hippietrail is correct here in that it does mean that there is one release. I also seem to remember reading it somewhere (maybe in something by Hewitt?) and Tschenkeli, who incidentally also refers to them as "harmonische Gruppen" notes in his Einführung in die Georgische Sprache that harmonic clusters should not be split when dividing a word into syllables, which to my mind implies that there is only one release.
    – A Parmar
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 14:38

2 Answers 2


There is a PhD dissertation, The Consonant Phonotactics of Georgian (2002), by Marika Butskhrikidze where this issue was tested (see pp. 123-132 [137-146 in the PDF]). Basically, her results are:

  1. Most harmonic clusters are in fact produced with two releases.

  2. Based on a perception experiment, "harmonic Cc clusters behave as single consonants in terms of hit rate, but as a sequence of two unrelated consonants in terms of detection time".

  • your link isn't working, what's the name of the paper/doi?
    – awe lotta
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 15:30
  • @awelotta the link works for me. Regardless, the names of the dissertation is quoted immediately after the link
    – Tristan
    Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 8:52

"Georgian Harmonic Clusters: Phonetic Cues to Phonological Representation" by Ioana Chitoran (1998) does an acoustic analysis and finds two bursts associated with these clusters, as well as a longer duration (whereas doubly articulated consonants were expected to have a duration similar to a non-cluster), suggesting they are separate phonetically. They are pronounced in the order written. Occasionally, word-medially, she finds that the dorsal consonant is lenited.

She mentions Aronson's claim:

With respect to the fifth property [of harmonic consonant clusters], (6e) [simultaneity of closure and release], a number of authors (Zgenti 1965, Aronson 1982, 1991, Deprez 1988) describe the two members of a harmonic cluster as having simultaneous closures and only one release. This description is purely impressionistic.


In a pulmonic egressive airstream mechanism, a coronal and a velar closure cannot be formed simultaneously. In the case of [pk tk bg dg], any front closure, whether labial or coronal, must be released before the velar closure can be formed. The two closures cannot be simultaneous, with only one release. We are dealing then with a sequence of two stops.

  • 1
    I can see why a stop + stop cluster can’t have just one release (if you have two closures, there must be two releases, otherwise you’ve still got a closure in one of the two places), but I don’t see why those releases can’t be simultaneous – much less why they can’t be formed simultaneously. Closing the lips while simultaneously closing at the velum is very easy to do, and I don’t understand how Chitoran can claim it’s not possible. It’s not possible to release the anterior closure with (non-nasal) voicing, of course, but it is certainly possible to form and release it. Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 23:00
  • That said, I also don’t understand how a sequence of affricate + plosive like [dzg] could ever be described as having simultaneous releases. If the plosive phases are released simultaneously, that would by definition put the fricative phase of the affricate after the release of the pure plosive, so [d͡zg] would be a misleading transcription; [g͡dz] would (I suppose) be more accurate. Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 23:04

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