In Spanish, some words start with the double consonant graphemes ⟨ll⟩ - that have indeed the value of /ʎ/.

Is there any language that have a similar pattern (starting with double consonants)? What is the origin of this "phenomena"?

(I know, at least, that Arabic does not have such pattern).

  • 4
    The Castilian Spanish phoneme /ʎ/ is represented as LL in Spanish. In many other dialects of Spanish (notably Mexican Spanish), this phoneme has merged with /y/, and there is only one phoneme with two spellings. In much the same way, Castilian Spanish has a /θ/ phoneme spelled with C (before I or E), and Z elsewhere. In Mexican Spanish, /θ/ has merged with /s/ and S, Z, and C (before I or E) can all be pronounced the same way: /s/.
    – jlawler
    Oct 12, 2013 at 17:05
  • 7
    Just in case it wasn't clear from jlawler's comment, the "double consonant" here is just a spelling convention: it really stands for a single sound. If you're asking whether there are other languages whose writing systems represent single phonemes with orthographic geminates, and where these can be initial, then yes. Welsh is an example: ff stands for [f], ll stands for voiceless [l], and both can be word-initial.
    – TKR
    Oct 12, 2013 at 17:59
  • 1
    @TKR The Welsh ⟨ll⟩ is a voiceless lateral fricative (/ɬ/). Examples of the two occurring in the initial position, if jihed is interested, are ffaith 'fact' and llaeth 'milk'. Other letters like ⟨d⟩ (in y ddafad). However, in Welsh, these are letter in their own rights and not the same letter repeated twice. Oct 12, 2013 at 18:30
  • 2
    I am contrasting a phonological phenomenon in 16th-Century Spanish with one in modern Mexican Spanish, and implying that both phenomena also occur and occurred in other dialects of Spanish.
    – jlawler
    Oct 14, 2013 at 16:28
  • 2
    If Sp. trilled r were always written "rr", as it is when intervocalic, then r would also display "a similar pattern (starting with double consonants)."
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 6, 2017 at 21:01

2 Answers 2


Your question is based on a very common lack of understanding about the difference between orthography and phonology.

Language is ancient, prehistoric. The first writing systems we know of are only about three thousand year old innovations. Writing and orthography are basically an artificial technology invented by people as an enhancement to the naturally occurring language we have always had.

But oddly enough there is one language I know of that answers this question in every way.

Albanian has a "ll" digraph which is counted as a separate letter and represents a different sound to the Albanian letter "l" (though not the same sound the Spanish "ll" represents).

And the Albanian "ll" can also occur at the beginning of words. Here are the ones currently in the English Wiktionary [1], [2]:

  • llaf, llapë, llastoj, llasë, llautë, llënjëz, llërë, lloj, lloj brejtësi, lloji, llom, llucë, lluke, llullaq, llum, llup, llups, llurbë
  • Albanian also has a letter rr, which can be initial.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 14, 2013 at 23:52
  • 2
    Yes and while Spanish has a digraph rr which represents a distinct sound from r, rr was never counted as a single letter as ch and ll were until recently. A lot of people think it was though. Oct 15, 2013 at 9:58
  • 2
    Spanish also has ñ which was previously written nn until the second n slipped above the first. It is uncommon as an initial letter, but a wildebeest is ñu in Spanish (gnu in English with the same pronunciation until a 1960s song changed fashions)
    – Henry
    Nov 12, 2013 at 22:50
  • 2
    @Henry, so we really should sing "I'm a nyu, I'm the nyicest nyanimal in the zyu!"
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 6, 2017 at 21:10
  • 1
    "three thousand years" > "about five and a half thousand years".
    – fdb
    Jun 9, 2018 at 10:37

Note: In most Latin American Spanish dialects (and most of Southern Spain) ll has merged with consonantal y, i.e. /j ~ ʝ/, not /ʎ/.

In many dialects of Argentina and Uruguay, "ll" / "y" represents /ʒ/ or /ʃ/.2

There are a few other Iberian romance languages that also use ll to represent /ʎ/, and within these there are words which are ll- initial (Catalan in particular has a large amount of words that begin as such):

  • Aragonese - agulla
  • Asturian / Leonese - llingua
  • Galician - illado
  • Catalan - llum

The non-romance Iberian language Basque also uses ll to represent this sound:

  • Basque - bonbilla

And in some dialects of French ll is also still pronounced as such (though in most it has merged with /j/).3

In Occitan, Mirandese, Portuguese (which inherited this orthography from Occitan)4 and Breton, this sound is represented by lh.

  • Occitan - miralhar
  • Portuguese - ralho
  • Mirandese - lhéngua
  • Breton - familh

In Franco-Provençal this sound is represented by ly, and in Aromanian by lj:

  • Franco-Provençal - balyi
  • Aromanian - ljepuri

In Italian this sound is represented by gli before a, e, o, u and gl before i:

  • Italian - figlio, eglino

In addition, a number of native American languages which have had historic contact with Spanish colonies and have this sound in their language transcribe it with ll:

  • Aymara - ll'aki'
  • Quechua - qallu


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatal_lateral_approximant
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeísmo
  3. enter image description here

     • Le Bon usage, André Goosse, Maurice Grevisse (§33, b, H):

  4. The Occitan classical orthography and the Catalan orthography are quite similar: They show the very close ties of both languages. The digraphs lh and nh, used in the classical orthography, were adopted by the orthography of Portuguese, presumably by Gerald of Braga, a monk from Moissac, who became bishop of Braga in Portugal in 1047, playing a major role in modernizing written Portuguese using classical Occitan norms.[55]

     • 55: Petit précis – Chronologie occitane – Histoire & civilisation, Jean-Pierre Juge (2001) (p.25)


A list of Catalan ll- initial words (not exhaustive):

llacer, llach, lladre, lladó, lladós, llama, llamas, llamp, llana, llanas, llanda, llanes, llano, llanos, llanxa, llança, llao, llapis, llar, llard, llarg, llast, llatí, llauna, llaurí, llautó, llavar, llavi, llavis, llavor, llaç, llaçar, llaüt, llebre, llec, lledó, llegar, llegir, llegua, llegum, llei, lleial, lleida, lleig, lleir, lleis, lleixa, llena, llenas, llenya, lleona, lleons, llepar, llera, llers, llesca, llest, llet, lletra, lletós, lleu, lleure, lleva, llevar, llevat, lleó, lli, llibre, lliga, lligam, lligar, lligat, llim, llima, llimac, llimar, llimó, llimós, llinas, llinda, lliri, llis, llisa, llista, llistó, llit, llitja, lliura, lliure, lliçà, lliçó, lloar, lloba, llobet, llobí, lloc, llocs, llodio, llogar, llogat, llom, llonch, llong, llonza, llop, llopis, llora, llorac, llorca, lloren, llorer, lloret, lloro, llort, llosa, llosc, llossa, llot, llotja, llotós, llovet, lloyd, llubí, llucar, lluch, llucia, lluent, lluer, lluert, lluir, lluita, Llull, llum, llums, llumí, lluna, lluny, llunyà, lluor, llur, llurba, llusa, lluç, lluçà, lluís, llépol, llíber, llíria, llívia, llúpol


In Catalan and Italian, /ʎ/ is distinguished from a geminated /l/, by different orthographies (e.g. cat: cel·la, it: cella):

| Language |  /ʎ/  | /l.l/ |
| Catalan  | ll    | l·l   |
| Italian  | gl(i) | ll    |

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