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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
Comparing 'flaCCid' with 'aCCident', I wondered if the (usual) difference in handling CC is derived from the days when most of those who used 'learned' words were familiar with Latin. 'Accident' can be analysed into 'ac' [modified 'ad' before C] + 'cid' [fall] + 'ent' [present participle]. 'Flaccid' is just 'flacc' + 'id' - the double C stays together. – David Garner Nov 20 at 11:36

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