Why is gemination contrast prevalently binary?
Abstract: Consonant gemination is predominantly arranged in two levels of length distinctions. Three-way length contrast is extremely rare, and languages with a four-way system are probably non-existent. The rarity of more than two-level distinctions may be related to phonetic implementation patterns which restrict speakers’ ability to produce such distinctions and/or listeners’ ability to perceive them. In this study we are concerned with the production restriction: Can speakers of a language produce up to four linguistically meaningful durational differences for the same consonants? This question is addressed by looking at the durational properties of Moroccan Arabic sequences opposing geminates (G) and singletons (S) across 6 contexts, theoretically yielding a four-way distinction at the postlexical level: #S < #G, S#S < G#S, S#G < G#G. Instead of a four-way hierarchy, our production data show a limit of three-level distinctions: #S < #G=S#S=G#S < S#G=G#G. The factors accounting for the mismatch between phonological length and phonetic duration are discussed, and a working hypothesis is provided for why length contrast is prevalently binary.
Ridouane, Rachid & Turco, Giuseppina. 2019. “Why is gemination contrast prevalently binary? Insights from Moroccan Arabic”. Radical: A Journal of Phonology, 1, 62-91.