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Looking into Pronunciation of double consonants, turned up an apparent rule for pronouncing a double-C in English that seems to parallel the Italian rule for pronouncing a single C. If the "cc" is followed by a bright vowel ("i" or "e"), it is pronounced /ks/:

accent, occipital, eccentric

Otherwise it is pronounced /k/:

account, occasion, occupy

A dictionary search throws up a few exceptions to this, which mostly appear to be musical loan words from Italian which are still pronounced as the in original ("acciaccatura" for example).

The question is this: how did this rule come about? The parallel with Italian is close enough to make me very suspicious, but I haven't been able to prove a connection between the two.

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Doesn't this directly follow from the rules of pronouncing c's? –  trutheality Jun 23 '11 at 1:50
Your analogy with Italian doesn't work very well I'm afraid. Single cs in Italian are often pronounced with a ch sound. Double cs in Italian are often pronunced as "hard" cs. –  Noldorin Jun 23 '11 at 2:36
In fact, the only other language I know of that shares this pronounciation rule is French, so I suspect the root lies there (more naturally too)! –  Noldorin Jun 23 '11 at 2:39
@Noldorin: whether the C is doubled or not isn't relevant to Italian pronunciation as I learned it. It's the following letter that matters: bright vowels mean ch, everything else k. That's why "ch" in Italian seems odd to English speakers: the H is inserted purely to stop the next letter being a bright vowel. –  user1579 Jun 23 '11 at 11:29
@trutheality: you should make that an answer and provide some references! –  user1579 Jun 23 '11 at 11:31

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Forgetting about the "doubling" of the consonant for a second, in English, some consonants, most notably c and g, but also s, t, x, and the pairs ch and th are softened when followed by softening vowels (usually i and e are the softening vowels, but a and io soften t, s, and a softens x for example).

Most of the "softenings" originated in Late Latin as a result of either intervocalic voicing or palatalization before front vowels.

Now what does it have to do with a double c?

Let's look at an example: eccentric

The first c is followed by a consonant, c, so it is pronounced as a k, while the second c is followed by an e, so it is pronounced as an s. Putting those together gives a ks sound.

On the other hand, in a word like occasion, the second c is followed by an a, which doesn't soften the c. So both cs are pronounced as k's, which is in turn pronounced as a single k sound.

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An exception seems to be flaccid, where the "first" pronunciation is -s-.

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After a quick search I found out (to my surprise) that both pronunciations (ks and s) are acceptable for that word. Even though I've never heard the former. –  trutheality Jun 23 '11 at 19:01

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