Syntactic gemination

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Syntactic gemination, or syntactic doubling, is an external sandhi phenomenon in Italian, Finnish and some Western Romance languages. It consists in the lengthening (gemination) of the initial consonant in certain contexts.

The phenomenon is variously referred to in English as word-initial gemination, phonosyntactic consonantal gemination, as well as under the native Italian terms: raddoppiamento sintattico (RS), raddoppiamento fonosintattico (RF), raddoppiamento iniziale, rafforzamento iniziale (della consonante)

In Standard Italian, syntactic doubling occurs after the following words (with exceptions described below):

  • all stressed ("strong") monosyllables (monosillabi forti) and many unstressed ("weak") monosyllables: è, e, o, a, da, fra, che, se, ma, più, può, gru, gnu, re, blu, tre, ciò, sì, già, giù, là, lì, qua, qui, né, sci, tè
    • Example: Andiamo a casa [anˈdjaːmo a‿kˈkaːza], Let's go home
  • all polysyllables stressed on the final vowel (that and the previous types are called oxytone words)
    • Example: Parigi è una città bellissima [paˈriːd͡ʒi ɛ una t͡ʃitˈta‿bbelˈlissima], Paris is a very beautiful city
  • some paroxytone words (those whose stress is on the second-last syllable): come, dove, qualche, sopra (sovra)
    • Example: Come va? [ˈkome‿vˈva],[1] How are you?

Articles, clitic pronouns (mi, ti, lo, etc.) and various particles do not cause doubling, although assimilation in colloquial speech can produce similar phonetic results: /il kane/ → [ikˈkaːne] 'the dog'.

The cases of doubling are commonly classified as "stress-induced doubling" and "lexical".[2]

"Syntactic" means that gemination spans word boundaries, as opposed to word-internal geminated consonants: grappa [ˈɡ].[2] The emergence of syntactic doubling has traditionally been explained by a diachronic phenomenon of the loss of terminal consonants in Italian during its evolution from Latin (ad > a, quid > qui, etc.), but more recent research also pays attention to synchronic aspects.[2]

In some phonemic transcriptions, such as in the Zingarelli dictionary, words that trigger syntactic gemination are marked with an asterisk: the preposition "a" is transcribed as /a*/.

Regional occurrence[edit]

Syntactic gemination is the standard native pronunciation in Tuscany, Central Italy (both "stress-induced" and "lexical") and Southern Italy (only "lexical"), including Sicily and Corsica. In Northern Italy, along with Sardinia, speakers use it inconsistently because the feature is not present in the dialectal substratum and is not usually shown in the written language unless a new word is produced by the fusion of the two: "chi sa"-> chissà ("who knows" in the sense of goodness knows).

It is not taught in normal grammar programmes in Italian schools so most speakers do not recognize it as a standard feature of the language; indeed, many Italian speakers consider it to be a pronunciation error typical of Central and Southern Italy.[citation needed] Thus, northern speakers often do not try to acquire the feature, and other speakers try to avoid it in formal speech.[citation needed]


It does not occur in the following cases:

  • a pause is on the boundary of word in question[3]
    • In particular, initial gemination may be conditioned by syntax, which determines the likelihood of pause. For example, in the phrase "La volpe ne aveva mangiato metà prima di addormentarsi" ("The fox had eaten half of it before falling asleep"), there is no gemination after metà if there is even a slight pause, as prima is part of the adjunct, a sentence element that is easily isolated phonologically from the main clause within the prosodic hierarchy of the phrase.[4]
  • the stressed final vowel is lengthened.[3]
  • a sharp break or change occurs in the pitch on the word boundary.[3]

There are other considerations, especially in various dialects, so the initial gemination is subject to complicated lexical, syntactic and phonological/prosodic conditions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Migliorini, Bruno; Tagliavini, Carlo; Fiorelli, Piero; Bórri, Tommaso Francesco (31 January 2008). "come". Dizionario d'ortografia e di pronunzia (DOP) (in Italian). Rai Eri. Retrieved 26 February 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c Doris Borrelli (2002) "Raddoppiamento Sintattico in Italian: A Synchronic and Diachronic Cross-Dialectical Study" (Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics) Routledge, ISBN 0-415-94207-1
  3. ^ a b c Absalom, Matthew, Stevens, Mary, and Hajek, John, "A Typology of Spreading, Insertion and Deletion or What You Weren’t Told About Raddoppiamento Sintattico in Italian", in "Proc. 2002 Conference of the Australian Linguistic Society", Macquarie University (e-print pdf file)
  4. ^ Nespor, Marina & Irene Vogel (1986). Prosodic Phonology. Dordrecht: Foris.