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Gemination Duration in Loan and Native Russian Words

Updated on April 9, 2017

Background on the language:

Russian is an Old-East Slavic language that is part of the Indo-European language tree (“learning Russian”, 1999). Due to many countries formerly being a part of the USSR, the Russian language is distributed in many more countries than just Russia (“learning Russian”, 1999). There are approximately 255 to 285 million Russian speakers world-wide, with roughly 150 million being native speakers (“learning Russian”, 1999). The Russian alphabet uses Cyrillic characters and was created in the 9th century by two missionaries from Greece, it therefore is largely based on the Greek alphabet (“learning Russian”, 1999). Russian vowels and consonants are either categorised as hard or soft, or plain or palatized (Casiraghi, Jones). The language also has far fewer phonotactic constraints for initial segments of words (in comparison to English) and this results in words beginning with large consonant clusters that Slavic languages are famous for (Casiraghi, Jones).


Gemination refers to adjacent speech sounds that are identical in manner and place of articulation, regardless of voicing (Katz, 2005). Gemination will also be referred to in this report as double consonants or long consonants. Native Russian words do not have a large presence of gemination (in comparison to languages such as Italian or Arabic), additionally many of the existing double consonants have become degeminated over time, yet are still written with two letters (Casiraghi, Jones). The exception is loan words- that is, a word taken from another language with little adjustment. This is the case in many other languages also, for example, when the Hungarian language adopts a foreign word that contains a short vowel followed by a short consonant, the following undergoes gemination, yet native Hungarian words do not comply to this rule at all (Kertész, 2006). It is also noteworthy that English and German (common sources for loan words) are both languages that do not adhere to gemination (Kertész, 2006). Due to this occurrence happening in several other languages such as Japanese and Italian, Kertész (2006) proposes that this is a universal tendency within languages that allow gemination. Similarly, Samek-Lodovici (1992) states that “the specific gemination pattern of a language follows from independently motivated universal wellformedness [sic] constraints” (p. 1). This report will measure the duration of Russian gemination and compare and contrast the results between native and loan words.

Literature Review

Before any scholarly article is spoken of, Glovinskaja must be mentioned for “ob odonoj fondologiceskie posisteme v sovremennom russkon literaturnom jazyke” (1971) as she is referenced in (almost) every single piece of writing on gemination, however, a translated copy of her book was not available.

Olga Dimitrieva (2012) states that geminates “can be between one and a half to three times longer than singletons” (p. 7), are mostly word final, voiceless stop fricatives, and in post-stress position. The presence of true Russian geminates is then questioned by Dimitrieva (2012) due to the lack of minimal pairs in single native words, with an alternative classification offered, referring to geminates “as positional combinations of two identical phonemes rather than a single unit” (p. 62). Additionally, contextual social factors (such as differences in pronunciation from the lower class) need to be taken into account. During the 18th Century, a surge of loan words from varying languages were added to the Russian lexicon, this resulted in a social tendency to avoid gemination from both native and loan words in an attempt to keep a traditional Russian sound to their speech (Dimitrieva, 2012). From this came the opportunity to show one’s high status or education through speech, as the expression of gemination became a link to the working class (Dimitrieva, 2012). From the 20th century onwards gemination in Russian has become more prevalent, however, “morpheme-internal geminates [are] still regarded as a sign of foreign word not yet fully assimilated by Russian” (Dimitrieva, 2012).

In compliance to this, Terrence Waight (1980) states that a large majority of ‘intra-morphemic long consonants’ (p. 81) come from loan words. Waight (1980) also makes it very clear that there is a difference in duration between native and loan words, with loan words having a noticeably longer gemination period. The delayed release of a double consonant can vary from speaker to speaker, yet Waight (1980) has found that it will never be pronounced as two separate articulations. Contrary to Dimitrieva (2012), Waight (1980) goes on to say that “Russian does not have adjacent identical consonant phonemes…within its native morphemes” (p. 82), this is proven incorrect by Dimitrieva’s native minimal pairs containing both singletons and geminates. However, Waight (1980) goes on to prove that although (as he believes) there is no native gemination occurrence, it is common with the combination of two words, such as prefixes. Furthermore, there are no phonotactic restraints against intra-morphemic gemination in the language itself (Waight, 1980). On the other hand, Jonah Katz (2005) introduces the idea of vowel insertion between certain consonant geminates, giving the morpheme a longer duration, “a sequence followed by a geminate fricative followed by another consonant is broken up by epenthesis” (p. 3). He also claims that the phonotactic restraint of the language that brings the vowel insertion does not stem from just fricatives or just geminates, but the combination of geminate fricatives. This report will test the following statements retrieved from the scholarly articles above:

1) Russian geminates being 1.5 to 3 times longer than singleton counter-parts.

2) Loan word geminates being longer than those of native origin.

3) The effects on duration where epenthesis is present.

4) Geminates being pronounced as varying consonant durations, never as two separate sounds.


Hypothesis: Native Russian geminates will be 1.5 to 3 times longer than singleton counter-parts. Words of native origin will have shorter gemination periods than those of foreign origin. Vowel insertion to break up specific gemination will greatly increase the duration of the morpheme. All geminates recorded will be pronounced with varying degrees of duration, but never as a double, identical sound.

Words recorded will be presented in four different groups,

1) Control group (containing no gemination)

2) Native group (native words that are minimal pairs to the control group with gemination)

3) Vowel insertion group (where gemination may or may not result in vowel insertion in native words)

4) Loan group (words of foreign origin containing gemination)

Data was collected from a 19 year old native speaker of Russian from Kyrgyzstan that has been living in Australia for 13 years. Each word was recorded via Audacity and then individually converted into a spectrogram and waveform via Praat. The length of each geminate or singleton was then found and measured with the programme.

Minimal pairs of the control and native group:

‘Back’, ‘cart’, and ‘Georgina’ were selected from Dimitrieva (2012). ‘Length’ and ‘to hold’ were selected from Savko (2007). The data collected above does not coincide with Dimitrieva’s (2012) statement of Russian geminates being 1.5 to 3 times longer than their counterparts as the mean is less than 1.5 times greater. Waight’s (1980) prediction of geminates never being pronounced as two individual sounds holds thus far.

Vowel insertion group:

The words in this data set were selected from Katz (2005). Only two of the three words comply with Katz’s (2005) theory of epenthesis with insertion being present in “in the second one” and being absent in “towards the bed”. However, “with light” did not have any vowel insertion whatsoever, therefore contradicting Katz’s (2005) study. No geminates were pronounced as two individual sounds. The length of the morpheme where epenthesis was present is noticeably longer than those without.

Load word group:

The lexical set above has been taken from Dimitrieva (2012). The simultaneous presence of a singleton /s/ in the word “discussion” along with the geminated /ss/ following is noteworthy as it can provide a direct and true comparison of duration. The singleton of the word “discussion” was measured as 0.1384 seconds (to four decimal points), making it 0.0914 seconds shorter than its geminate counterpart. The mean of loan word gemination is 0.1442 seconds, making it longer than gemination of native words. It is also shorter than the recorded word featuring epenthesis.

The following graph compares all results with the Y axis measuring duration in seconds.


The result of vowel insertion increasing duration and loan words containing geminates having a longer duration than native word geminates concur with the hypothesis. Additionally, all geminates were pronounced as varying durations as opposed to two separate sounds, as expected. However, native geminates were not 1.5 to 3 times longer than singleton counterparts, in contrast to the hypothesis.

If this were to be repeated, data should be collected from many different speakers as opposed to just one. Equipment used to record the speaker should be of higher quality, reducing background noise and therefore making the spectrograms easier to read as the accuracy of the duration recorded is slightly reduced due to it being measured by a person’s listening ability and on such a small scale of seconds there is room for human error.


For the full report with attached appendix:


Anonymus (1999) Accessed on: 7th of October


Casiraghi, R., Jones, C. Russian Phonology. www/ Italy: Casiraghi Jones

Publishing. Accessed on: 3rd October 2016.

Dimitrieva, O. (2012). Geminate typology and the perception of consonant duration. United

States: Stanford University.

Kertész, Z. (2006). Approaches to the phonological analysis of loanword adaptation.

Budapest: Eötvös Loránd University.

Katz, J. (2005). Russian consonant cvlysters. United States: Massachusetts Institute of


Samek-Lodovici, V. (1992). A unified analysis of cross linguistic morphological gemination.

Utrecht: Proceedings of CONSOLE-1.

Savko, I. E. (2007). Vol.10.3. “Pronunciation of consonant combinations”. In the whole

school course of Russian language[2]. p. 768.

Waight, T. (1980). On the phonology of words of foreign origin. doi: 10.1007/BF02742393

[1] Cited in text as (“learning Russian”, 1999)

[2] Translated from Russian. The original: Произношение сочетаний согласных . Весь школьный курс русского языка


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