, in linguistics
, is a morphological process
by which the root
of a word
, or part of it, is repeated.
Reduplication is used in inflections to convey a grammatical function, such as plurality, intensification, etc., and in lexical derivation to create new words. It is often used when a speaker adopts a tone more "expressive" or figurative than ordinary speech and is also often, but not exclusively, iconic in meaning. Reduplication is found in a wide range of languages and language groups, though its level of linguistic productivity varies.
Reduplication is the standard term for this phenomenon in the linguistics literature. Other terms that are occasionally used include cloning, doubling, duplication, and repetition.
A recent study involving brain imaging, found that new born babies are drawn to words that have repeated syllables. According to the study, this explains the universal presences of reduplicants such as 'mama' and 'dada' in many of the world's languages.
Reduplication is often described phonologically
in one of two different ways: either (1) as reduplicated segments
(sequences of consonants
) or (2) as reduplicated prosodic units
). In addition to phonological description, reduplication often needs to be described morphologically
as a reduplication of linguistic constituents
). As a result, reduplication is interesting theoretically as it involves the interface between phonology and morphology.
The base is the word (or part of the word) that is to be copied. The reduplicated element is called the reduplicant, often abbreviated as RED or sometimes just R.
In reduplication, the reduplicant is most often repeated only once. However, in some languages, reduplication can occur more than once, resulting in a tripled form, and not a duple as in most reduplication. Triplication is the term for this phenomenon of copying three times. Pingelapese has both reduplication and triplication.
| Basic Verb
|| Triplication |
| 'to sing'
|| 'still singing' |
| 'to sleep'
|| 'still sleeping' |
Triplication occurs in other languages, e.g. Ewe, Shipibo, Twi, Mokilese, Min Nan.
Sometimes gemination (i.e. the doubling of consonants or vowels) is considered to be a form of reduplication. The term dupleme has been used (after morpheme) to refer to different types of reduplication that have the same meaning.
Full and partial reduplication
Full reduplication involves a reduplication of the entire word. For example, Kham derives reciprocal forms from reflexive forms by total reduplication:
|| 'we (to) us'
|| (gin-gin) |
|| 'they (to) them'
|| (Watters 2002) |
Another example is from Musqueam Halkomelem "dispositional" aspect formation:
|| 'to capsize'
|| 'likely to capsize'
|| (k’ʷə́ɬ-k’ʷəɬ) |
|| 'to speak'
|| (Shaw 2004) |
Partial reduplication involves a reduplication of only part of the word. For example, Marshallese forms words meaning 'to wear X' by reduplicating the last consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) sequence of a base, i.e. base+CVC:
|| 'to wear a belt'
|| (kagir-gir) |
|| 'to wear socks'
|| (Moravsik 1978) |
Many languages often use both full and partial reduplication, as in the Motu example below:
| Base Verb
|| Full reduplication
|| Partial reduplication |
| mahuta 'to sleep'
|| mahutamahuta 'to sleep constantly'
|| mamahuta 'to sleep (plural)' |
|| (ma-mahuta) |
Reduplication may be initial (i.e. prefixal), final (i.e. suffixal), or internal (i.e. infixal), e.g.
Initial reduplication in Agta (CV- prefix):
|| 'late afternoon'
|| 'a long time'
|| 'a long time (in years)'
|| (Healey 1960) |
Final reduplication in Dakota (-CCV suffix):
|| 'tall (singular)'
|| 'tall (plural)'
|| (hãska-ska) |
|| 'good (singular)'
|| 'good (plural)'
|| (Shaw 1980, Marantz 1982, Albright 2002) |
Internal reduplication in Samoan (-CV- infix):
|| 'they walk'
|| 'he walks'
|| (sa-va-vali) |
|| 'they love'
|| 'he loves'
|| (Moravcsik 1978, Broselow and McCarthy 1984) |
Internal reduplication is much less common than the initial and final types.
A reduplicant can copy from either the left edge of a word (left-to-right copying) or from the right edge (right-to-left copying). There is a tendency for prefixing reduplicants to copy left-to-right and for suffixing reduplicants to copy right-to-left:
Initial L → R copying in Oykangand Kunjen (a Pama-Nyungan language of Australia):
|| (ed-eder) |
|| (alg-algal) |
Final R → L copying in Sirionó:
|| 'I cut'
|| (achisia-sia) |
|| 'to come apart'
|| (McCarthy and Prince 1996) |
Copying from the other direction is possible although less common:
Initial R → L copying in Tillamook:
|| 'they break'
|| (Reichard 1959) |
Final L → R copying in Chukchi:
|| 'ground (abs. sg.)'
|| (nute-nut) |
|| 'gopher (abs. sg.)'
|| (Marantz 1982) |
Internal reduplication can also involve copying the beginning or end of the base. In Quileute, the first consonant of the base is copied and inserted after the first vowel of the base.
Internal L → R copying in Quileute:
|| 'he put it on'
|| 'he put it on (frequentative)'
|| (tsi-ts-ko) |
|| 'snow here and there'
|| (Broselow and McCarthy 1984) |
In Temiar, the last consonant of the root is copied and inserted before the medial consonant of the root.
Internal R → L copying in Temiar (an Austro-Asiatic language of Malaysia):
|| 'to shoot (perfective)'
|| 'to shoot (continuative)'
|| 'to marry (perfective)'
|| 'to marry (continuative)'
|| (Broselow and McCarthy 1984, Walther 2000) |
A rare type of reduplication is found in Semai (an Austro-Asiatic language of Malaysia). "Expressive minor reduplication" is formed with an initial reduplicant that copies the first and last segment of the base:
|| 'to vomit'
|| 'appearance of nodding constantly'
|| 'monsoon rain'
|| (Diffloth 1973, in Albright 2002) |
In some Salish languages, reduplication is used to mark both diminution and plurality, one process applying to each end of the word, as in the following example from Shuswap. Note that the data was transcribed in a way that is not comparable to the IPA, but the reduplication of both initial and final portions of the root is clear: ṣōk!Emē'’n 'knife' reduplicated as ṣuk!ṣuk!Emen'’me’n (Haeberlin 1918:159).
Reduplication and other processes
All of the examples above consist of only reduplication. However, reduplication often occurs with other phonological and morphological process, such as deletion, affixation of non-reduplicating material, etc.
For instance, in Tz'utujil a new '-ish' adjective form is derived from other words by suffixing the reduplicated first consonant of the base followed by the segment [oχ]. This can be written succinctly as . Below are some examples:
- * [kaq] 'red' → [kaqkoχ] 'reddish'
- * [q’an] 'yellow' → [q’anq’oχ] 'yellowish'
- * [jaʔ] 'water' → [jaʔjoχ] 'watery' (Dayley 1985)
Somali has a similar suffix that is used in forming the plural of some nouns: -aC (where C is the last consonant of the base):
- * [tog] 'ditch' → [togag] 'ditches'
- * [ʕad] 'lump of meat' → [ʕadad] 'lumps of meat'
- * [wɪːl] 'boy' → [wɪːlal] 'boys' (Abraham 1964)
(One linguist has used the word duplifix to refer to this combination of reduplication and affixation.)
In Tohono O'odham initial reduplication also involves gemination of the first consonant in the distributive plural and in repetitive verbs:
- * [nowiu] 'ox' → [nonnowiu] 'ox (distributive)' (no-n-nowiu)
- * [hódai] 'rock' → [hohhodai] 'rock (distributive)' (ho-h-hodai)
- * [kow] 'dig out of ground (unitative)' → [kokkow] 'dig out of ground (repetitive)' (ko-k-kow)
- * [gɨw] 'hit (unitative)' → [gɨggɨw] 'hit (repetitive)' (Haugen forthcoming)
Sometimes gemination can be analyzed as a type of reduplication.
Function and meaning
In the Malayo-Polynesian family, reduplication is used to form plurals (among many other functions):
- *Malay rumah "house", rumah-rumah "houses".
In pre-1972 Indonesian and Malay orthography, 2 was shorthand for the reduplication that forms plurals: orang "person", orang-orang or orang2 "people.
The Nama language uses reduplication to increase the force of a verb: go, "look;", go-go "examine with attention".
Chinese also uses reduplication: 人 rén for "person", 人人 rénrén for "everybody". Japanese does it too: 時 toki "time", tokidoki 時々 "sometimes, from time to time". Both languages can use a special written iteration mark 々 to indicate reduplication, although in Chinese the iteration mark is no longer used in standard writing and is often found only in calligraphy.
Indo-European languages formerly used reduplication to form a number of verb forms, especially in the preterite or perfect tenses. In the older Indo-European languages, many such verbs survive:
- *spondeo, spopondi (Latin, "I vow, I vowed")
- * λείπω, λέλοιπα (Greek, "I leave, I left")
- * δέρκομαι, δέδορκα (Greek, "I see, I saw"; these Greek examples exhibit ablaut as well as reduplication)
- *háitan, haíháit (Gothic, "to name, I named")
None of these sorts of forms survive in modern English, although they existed in its parent Germanic languages. A number of verbs in the Indo-European languages exhibit reduplication in the present stem rather than the perfect stem: Latin gigno, genui ("I beget, I begat") is a surviving example. Other Indo-European verbs used reduplication as a derivational process; compare Latin sto ("I stand") and sisto ("I remain"). All of these Indo-European inherited reduplicating forms are subject to reduction by other phonological laws.
Recent Finnish slang uses reduplicated nouns to indicate genuinity, completeness, originality and being uncomplicated as opposed to being fake, incomplete, complicated or fussy. It can be thought as compound word formation. For example, Söin viisi jäätelöä, pullapitkon ja karkkia, sekä tietysti ruokaruokaa. "I ate five choc-ices, a long loaf of coffee bread and candy, and of course food-food". Here, the "food-food" is contrasted to the "junk-food" -- the principal role of food is nutrition, and "junkfood" isn't nutritious, so "food-food" is nutritious food, exclusively. One may say "En ollut eilen koulussa, koska olin kipeä. Siis kipeäkipeä" ("I wasn't at school yesterday because I was sick. Sick-sick, that is"), meaning one was actually suffering from an illness and is not making up excuses as usual.
- * ruoka "food", ruokaruoka "proper food", as opposed to snacks
- * peli "game", pelipeli "complete game",as opposed to a mod
- * puhelin "phone", puhelinpuhelin "phone for talking", as opposed to a pocket computer
- * kauas "far away", kauaskauas "unquestionably far away"
- * koti "home", kotikoti "home of your parents", as opposed to one's current place of residence
These sorts of reduplicative forms, such as "food-food," are not merely literal translations of the Finnish but in fact have some frequency in contemporary English for emphasising, as in Finnish, an "authentic" form of a certain thing. "Food-food" is one of the most common, along with such a possibilities for "car-car" to describe a vehicle which is actually a car (small automobile) and not something else such as a truck, or "house-house," for a stand-alone house structure as opposed to an apartment, for instance.
Reduplication comes after inflection in Finnish. Young adults may ask one another Menetkö kotiin vai kotiinkotiin? "Are you going home or home-home?" The reduplicated home refers to the old home that used to be their home before they moved out to their new home.
In Swiss German, the verbs gah or goh "go", cho "come", la or lo "let" and aafa or aafo "begin" reduplicate when combined with other verbs.
|| She comes to adorn our Christmas tree.
|| She doesn't let him sleep.
The Proto-Indo-European language
used partial reduplication in perfect tense forms of verb roots. This is also present in Ancient Greek
, e.g. λύω (I free) => λέλυκα (I have freed).
The Proto-Indo-European word qwqwlós = "wheel" (cfr. Greek Κύκλος, kyklos = "circle") has reduplication, likely for onomatopoeia.
English uses some kinds of reduplication, mostly for informal expressive vocabulary. There are three types:
- Rhyming reduplications: argy-bargy, arty-farty, boogie-woogie, bow-wow, chock-a-block, claptrap, easy-peasy, eency-weency, fuddy-duddy, fuzzy-wuzzy, gang-bang, hanky-panky, harum-scarum, heebie-jeebies, helter-skelter, herky-jerky, higgledy-piggledy, hobnob, Hobson-Jobson, hocus-pocus, hodge-podge, hoity-toity, hokey-pokey, honey-bunny, hot-pot, hotch-potch, hubble-bubble, hugger-mugger, hulking-bulking, Humpty-Dumpty, hurdy-gurdy, hurly-burly, hurry-scurry, itsy-bitsy, itty-bitty, loosey-goosey, lovey-dovey, mumbo-jumbo, namby-pamby, nimbly-bimbly, nitty-gritty, nitwit, okey-dokey, pall-mall, palsy-walsy, pee-wee, pell-mell, picnic, razzle-dazzle, righty-tighty, roly-poly, rumpy-pumpy, super-duper, teenie-weenie, teeny-weeny, tidbit, walkie-talkie, tighty-whitey, willy-nilly, wingding
Although at first glance "Abracadabra" appears to be an English rhyming reduplication it in fact is not; instead, it is derived from the Aramaic formula "Abəra kaDavəra" meaning "I would create as I spoke")
- Exact reduplications (baby-talk-like): bonbon, bye-bye, choo-choo, chop-chop, chow-chow, dum-dum, gee-gee, go-go, goody-goody, knock-knock, night-night, no-no, pee-pee, poo-poo, pooh-pooh, rah-rah, so-so, tsk-tsk, tuk-tuk, tut-tut, wakey wakey, wee-wee and so on.
Couscous is not an English example for reduplication, since it is taken from a French word which has a Maghrebi origin.
- Ablaut reduplications: bric-a-brac, chit-chat, criss-cross, dilly-dally, ding-dong, fiddle-faddle, flimflam, flip-flop, hippety-hoppety, kitcat, kitty-cat, knick-knack, mish-mash, ping-pong, pitter-patter, riff-raff, rickrack, riprap, see-saw, shilly-shally, sing-song, snicker-snack, splish-splash, teeny-tiny, teeter-totter, tic-tac-toe, tick-tock, ticky-tacky, tip-top, tittle-tattle, wish-wash, wishy-washy, zig-zag
In the ablaut reduplications, the first vowel is almost always a high vowel and the reduplicated ablaut variant of the vowel is a low vowel. There is also a tendency for the first vowel to be front and the second vowel to be back.
None of the above types are particularly productive, meaning that the sets are fairly fixed and new forms are not easily accepted, but there is another form of reduplication that is used as a deprecative called shm-reduplication (or schm-reduplication) that can be used with most any word; e.g. baby-shmaby or car-shmar. This process is a feature of American English from Yiddish, starting among the American Jews of New York City, then the New York dialect and then the whole country.
When the slang -ma- infix is used on a two-syllable word with an initial open syllable, the second syllable is reduplicated and the infix appears in between, though often the first instance of the reduplicated syllable is reduced to consonant-schwa. Thus from oboe we get oboe-ma-boe or oba-ma-boe, and from purple we get purple-ma-ple or purpa-ma-ple (Yu 2004).
Exact reduplication can be used with contrastive focus (generally where the first noun is stressed) to indicate a literal, as opposed to figurative, example of a noun, or perhaps a sort of Platonic ideal of the noun, as in "Is that carrot cheesecake or carrot CAKE-cake?". This is similar to the Finnish use mentioned above. An extensive list of such examples is found in
More can be learned about English reduplication in Thun (1963), Cooper and Ross (1975), and Nevins and Vaux (2003).
Afrikaans regularly utilizes reduplication to emphasize the meaning of the word repeated. For example, krap means "to scratch one's self," while krap-krap-krap means "to scratch one's self vigorously."
Reduplication is not present in Dutch, the parent language of Afrikaans, except in cases of interjections.
Australian Aboriginal language
Reduplication is common many Australian place names due to their Aboriginal origins. Examples: Turramurra, Parramatta, Wagga Wagga, Wooloomooloo
reduplication was used both to create new words or words associations (tran-tran, via via, leccalecca) and to intensify the meaning (corri!, corri! = run!, run!).
Common in Lingua Franca
, particularly but not exclusively for onomatopoeic action descriptions:
"Spagnoli venir...boum boum...andar; Inglis venir...boum boum bezef...andar; Francés venir...tru tru tru...chapar." ("The Spaniards came, cannonaded, and left. The English came, cannonaded heavily, and left. The French came, trumpeted on bugles, and captured it.")
A common use for reduplication in French is the creation of hypocoristics
, thus Louise
, and Zinedine Zidane
In Romanian, reduplication is not uncommon and it has been used for both the creation of new words (including many from onomatopoeia
), for example, mormăi, ţurţur, dârdâi
, and for expressions, like talmeş-balmeş, harcea-parcea, terchea-berchea, ţac-pac, calea-valea, hodoronc-tronc
, or in more recent slang, trendy-flendy
The reduplication in Russian language
serves for various kinds of intensifying of the meaning and exists in several forms: a hyphenated
or repeated word
(either exact or inflected reduplication), and forms similar to shm-reduplication
Reduplication is a very common practice in Persian, to the extent that there are jokes about it. Reduplication is particularly common in the city of Shiraz
in southwestern Iran
. One can further categorize the reduplicative words into "True" and "Quasi" ones. In true reduplicative words, both words are actually real words and have meaning in the language in which it is used. In quasi-reduplicative words, at least one of the words does not have a meaning. Some examples of true reduplicative words in Persian are: "Xert-o-Pert" (Odds and ends); "Čert-o-Pert" (Nonsense); "Čarand-o-Parand" (animals and birds); "Āb-o-Tāb" (much detail). Among the quasi-reduplicative words are "Zan-o-man" (wife); "Davā-Mavā" (Argument); "Talā-malā" (jewelry); and "Dari-Vari" (none-sense talk).
, a word can be reduplicated while replacing the initial consonants (not being m
, and possibly missing) with m
. The effect is that the meaning of the original word is broadened. For example, tabak
means "plate(s)", and tabak mabak
then means "plates, dishes and such". This can be applied not only to nouns but to all kinds of words, as in yeşil meşil
meaning "green, greenish, whatever".
Reduplication in Bantu Languages
Reduplication is a common phenomenon in Bantu languages
and is usually used to form a frequentive verb or for emphasis.
- Swahili piga 'to strike'; pigapiga 'to strike repeatedly'
- Luganda okukuba (oku-kuba) 'to strike'; okukubaakuba (oku-kuba-kuba) 'to strike repeatedly, to batter'
- Chichewa tambalalá 'to stretch one's legs'; tambalalá-tambalalá to stretch one's legs repeatedly'
Popular names that have reduplication include
, reduplication is used in verbs and adjectives to form adverbs. Many Burmese words, especially adjectives such as လှပ ('beautiful' [l̥a̰pa̰]), which consist of two syllables (when reduplicated, each syllable is reduplicated separately), when reduplicated (လှပ → လှလှပပ 'beautifully' ) become adverbs
. This is also true of many Burmese verbs, which become adverbs when reduplicated.
Adjective reduplication is common in Standard Mandarin
, typically denoting emphasis, less acute degree of the quality described, or an attempt at more indirect speech: xiaoxiao de
小小的 (small), chouchou de
臭臭的 (smelly). In case of adjectives composed of two characters (morphemes), each character is reduplicated separately: piaoliang
漂亮 (beautiful) reduplicates as piaopiaoliangliang
Verb reduplication is also common in Standard Mandarin, conveying the meaning of informal and temporary character of the action. It is often used in imperative expressions, in which it lessens the degree of imperativity: zuozuo 坐坐 (sit (for a while)), dengdeng 等等 (wait (for a while)). Compound verbs are reduplicated as a whole word: xiuxixiuxi 休息休息 (rest (for a while)).
Noun reduplication is found in the southwestern dialect of Mandarin, which is nearly absent in standard Mandarin (Guoyu). For instance, in Sichuan, baobao 包包 (handbag) is used whereas Beijing and Guoyu use bao'r 包儿. However, there are few nouns that can be reduplicated in Standard Mandarin, and reduplication denotes generalisation and uniformity: ren 人 (human being) and renren 人人 (everybody (in general, in common)), jiajiahuhu 家家户户 (every household (uniformly)) - in the latter jia and hu additionally duplicate the meaning of household, which is a common way of creating compound words in Chinese.
A small number of native Japanese
nouns have collective
forms produced by reduplication (possibly with rendaku
). This formation is not productive
and is limited to a small set of nouns. Similarly to Standard Mandarin, the meaning is not that of a true plural
, but collectives that refer to a large, given set of the same object.
Japanese also contains a large number of mimetic words formed by reduplication of a syllable. These words include not only onomatopoeia, but also words intended to invoke non-auditory senses or psychological states.
Words called từ láy
are found abundantly in Vietnamese. They are formed by repeating a part of a word to form new words, altering the meaning of the original word. Its effect is to sometimes either increase or decrease the intensity of the adjective, and is often used as a literary device (like alliteration) in poetry and other compositions, as well as in everyday speech.
Examples of reduplication increasing intensity:
- đau → đau điếng: hurt → hurt horribly
- mạnh → mạnh mẽ: strong → very strong
- rực → rực rỡ: flaring → blazing
Examples of reduplication decreasing intensity:
- nhẹ → nhè nhẹ: soft → soft (less)
- xinh → xinh xinh: pretty → cute
- đỏ → đo đỏ: red → somewhat red
- xanh → xanh xanh: blue/green → somewhat blue/green
Examples of blunt sounds or physical conditions:
- loảng xoảng — sound of glass breaking to pieces or metallic objects falling to the ground
- hớt hơ hớt hải- (also hớt ha hớt hải) — hard gasps -> in extreme hurry, in panic, panic-stricken
- lục đục — the sound of hard, blunt (and likely wooden) objects hitting against each other -> disagreements and conflicts inside a group or an organisation
A number of Nepalese
nouns are formed by reduplication. As in other languages, the meaning is not that of a true plural, but collectives that refer to a set of the same or related objects, often in a particular situation.
For example, "rangi changi"* describes an object that is extremely or vividly colorful, like a crazy mix of colors and/or patterns, perhaps dizzying to the eye. The phrase "hina mina" means "scattered," like a large collection of objects spilled (or scampering, as in small animals) in all different directions. The basic Nepalese word for food, "khana" becomes "khana sana" to refer to the broad generality of anything served at a meal. Likewise, "chiya" or tea (conventionally made with milk and sugar) becomes "chiya siya": tea and snacks (such as biscuits or cookies). *Please note, these examples of Nepalese words are spelled with a simplified Latin transliteration only, not as exact spellings.
Malay and Indonesian
, reduplication of a noun indicates the plural
. For example, buku
, meaning "book", when reduplicated as buku-buku
(also written as buku²
) means "books". Another example is anak
for child and 'anak-anak' for children.
Reduplication of an adjective is also used to indicate plurality of the corresponding noun. For example: "Rumah di sini besar" means "The house here is big", while "Rumah di sini besar-besar" means "The houses here are big".
Sometimes, reduplication of nouns becomes adjectives in Indonesian. For examples,"om" 'uncle' as in "Gaya Ardi seperti om-om" means 'the Ardi's attitute is like an uncle', "orang-orang" 'people' means 'something like person behaviour'.
uses reduplication for several purposes, including emphasis and pluralization. Khmer also uses a form of reduplication known as "synonym compounding", in which two phonologically distinct words with similar or identical meanings are combined, either to form the same term or to form a new term altogether.
During the period 25-50 weeks after birth, all typically developing infants go through a stage of reduplicated or canonical babbling
(Stark 198, Oller, 1980
). Canonical babbling is characterized by repetition of identical or nearly identical consonant vowel combinations, such as 'nanana' or 'didididi'. It appears as a progression of language development as infants experiment with their vocal apparatus and home in on the sounds used in their native language. Canonical/reduplicated babbling also appears at a time when general rhythmic behavior, such as rhythmic hand banging and rhythmic kicking, appear. Canonical babbling is distinguished from earlier syllabic and vocal play, which has less of a structure.
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