Please can someone provide an example of a geminate consonant formed by total assimilation in English?

The closest I can find is from this article written by presumably Professor Ian MacKenzie:

In [the case of stops], then, a geminate must be envisaged as two discrete articulations of the consonant in question, with the first being unreleased, i.e. having no audible release burst.

To envisage what is meant by an unreleased stop, consider English words like like act, capped or dogged, in which one stop immediately follows another. Thus in act, /t/ follows /k/; in capped, /t/ follows /p/; and in dogged, /d/ follows /g/. In careful speech, both consonants in each sequence could in principle be fully pronounced, each with its in own release burst: [akt], [kapt] and [dɒgd]. However, in relaxed speech the first stop in each pair would typically be unreleased, with the speaker moving their tongue or lips into the correct articulatory position for that consonant but delaying release until the following consonant is articulated, a state of affairs which can be indicated using the ‘combining left angle above’ diacritic, as in [ak̚t], [kap̚t] and [dɒg̚d].

I am not convinced that [k̚t] is a geminate consonant, because the place of articulation of the unreleased stop is different to the place of articulation of the stop that is then released afterwards. I (believe I) can hear the difference between [ap̚t] and [ak̚t], and some languages indeed can minimally contrast by word-final unreleased stops (e.g. Thai), and I can also hear the differences between these

So does English actually form any geminate consonants apart from at word boundaries (calm man /kɑːmman/, car man /kɑːman/)? (Does /kɑːm+man/ → kɑːmman count as total assimilation?)

  • 2
    English can form geminates outside of word boundaries, but none (that I can think of, at least) that don’t involve at least a morpheme boundary. Words like unnamed or unnerved have a geminate /n/, but un- would not be considered a ‘word’ by most. Oct 4, 2022 at 16:18
  • @JanusBahsJacquet thanks for pointing that out to me! Would you say that those are examples of assimilation?
    – minseong
    Oct 4, 2022 at 16:21
  • @JanusBahsJacquet that makes me think about "immaterial", "in-" + "material", but immaterial is not pronounced with a geminate [m] and the assimilation of [n] to [m] happened in latin before the word was borrowed by english.
    – minseong
    Oct 4, 2022 at 16:24
  • 1
    The cited passage does not seem to say anywhere that [k̚t] is a geminate consonant. It just says that both geminates and the /kt/ in English "act" ("in relaxed speech") are pronounced as a two-consonant sequence starting with an unreleased stop. Oct 4, 2022 at 22:09
  • @brasstacks good point, in my first reading I missed the "the consonant in question" specification in the first paragraph I've quoted. I'd just assumed he was describing examples of English geminate stops because of lazy reading.
    – minseong
    Oct 4, 2022 at 22:15

2 Answers 2


First off, there is a distinction between geminates and fake geminates. Conventionally, we tend to write [tt, ss, nn] for all longish consonants, but the term "geminate" is usually reserved for "long single consonants" and not "sequence of two distinct but identical consonant segments". Sometimes to make the distinction clear people will write [t:] vs [tt]. The phonetic difference is that [t:] is a single segmental gesture with greater duration, and [tt] is two separate segmental gestures – a real consonant. In evaluating supposed geminates, one has to check how affricates are produced, to get the right phonetic transcription. In North Saami, the word [ba:ttsi] 'obelisk (acc.sg.)' which is spelled <bácci> has a long stop closure and only one fricative release, thus not *[ba:tstsi].

English does not generally have any geminates, thus "that toy" is a fake geminate (autonomous combination of identical consonants). It is, however, sometimes thought that there are phonological assimilations, a canonical example being "phone book" said to be pronounced like "foam book". There is some evidence that the two utterances may sound the same but they are not produced the same. This is an account promulgated in the theory of Gestural Phonology, that the tongue raising gesture of "phone book" is not actually deleted, instead the lip-closing gesture overlaps the tongue-raising gesture so that there is no acoustic sign of /n/, but there is an articulatory trace. Then in an example like "ten mice", we might have just a labial gesture, or we might have a lingual gesture covered-up by a labial gesture – a fake geminate.

MacKenzie isn't claiming that [ak̚t] has a geminate, he is explaining what an "unreleased consonant" is. This obliquely refers to the two kinds of geminate. Given that there is such a sing as [ak̚t], and there is [ask], then there could also be [ak̚k], a sequence of two identical consonants the first of which is unreleased – a fake geminate. The concern would be, how can you tell whether Finnish etc. has "long k" versus "two k's in a row", given that they are potentially indistinguishable phonetically. The literature on gemination from the 80's "solved" the problem by fiat, see all the OCP literature. One part of the "solution" was the claim that assimilations always create single long segments, thus if /pt/ becomes something like [tt], it is always a single long consonant segment.

Restricting the discussion to just English, and following conventional terminology, the question is whether "mm" etc. is a single long consonant, or is it two identical short consonants the first of which is unreleased? While I am sympathetic to the reasoning that says "tɛm mais" (ten mice) presents us with a single labial gesture with extra duration, you cannot ignore the fact that [tɛ] is not a possible syllable of English. It is well known that intervocalic consonants in English get re-adjusted in some manner, so that "hammer" either has an ambisyllabic consonant (coda of σ1, onset of σ2), or it has "coda capture" thus [hæm.ɹ̩]. The assimilated form or "ten mice" could then be [tɛm.ais]. The precise phonetic details of this supposed assimilation (to use the phonological term, as opposed to the phonetic term "coarticulation") are not clear enough that we can make a definitive declaration as to what the output of "10 mice" is, and how that relates to the phonological concept of gemination.

  • "While I am sympathetic to the reasoning that says "tɛm mais" (ten mice) presents us with a single labial gesture with extra duration, you cannot ignore the fact that [tɛ] is not a possible syllable of English." Don't intervocalic geminates typically act like they are both in the coda of the preceding syllable and the onset of the following syllable in all sorts of languages, despite being analyzed as long consonants? As far as I know, that's the case for Latin and Italian at least Oct 4, 2022 at 22:21
  • If the /t/ in that is realised with an alveolar closure, why would that toy be a fake geminate, as opposed to a real one? I don't quite understand. My thinking would be that, phonetically, at least, it would be a geminate in that there would be single approach for the initial [t], a long hold phase, as the air compressed behind the [t] made for the first /t/ would remain unreleased compressed behind the closure for the duration of both the hold phase of the first and second /t/s before the single release phase of the second, thus resulting in a genuine [t:]. If that makes sense? Oct 13, 2022 at 23:30
  • @Araucaria-him: My understanding is that "fake" geminates are a phonological concept, not a phonetic one: a fake geminate is morphologically separable into two instances of the same consonant ("that" ends in /t/ and "toy" starts with /t/, independently of their occurrence in sequence), while a non-fake geminate either has no intervening morpheme boundary, or the consonants on either side of the morpheme boundary are non-identical before they form a geminate by a process of assimilation. Oct 18, 2022 at 9:03
  • @brasstacks The concept 'fake geminate' is not presented as a phonological concept but a phonetic one here. See first para, where it appears that it has to do with the number of gestures. Oct 18, 2022 at 9:07
  • @Araucaria-him: I'm not sure why user6726 decided to identify the distinction between fake geminates and other geminates as a phonetic contrast between [tt] and [tː], but elsewhere I've seen fake geminates defined phonologically. Where there are phonetic differences, the difference is not necessarily noted to consist of a release in the middle of the fake geminate; I've seen references instead to different lengths: e.g. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3352589 ("The production and phonetic representation of fake geminates in English", Grace E. Oh and Melissa A. Redford) Oct 18, 2022 at 9:11

"ten mice" might be an example as I found here https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-assimilation-phonetics-1689141 (originally David Crystal, "Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, 6th ed." Blackwell, 2008)

The assimilation is total in ten mice /tem mais/, where the /n/ sound is now identical with the /m/ which influenced it.

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