Lund Language Diversity Forum Blog

A blog about the wonderful diversity of the world's languages, updated biweekly by the members of Lund Language Diversity Forum.

Echo Reduplication

In a previous post I discussed reduplication, with a particular focus on Austronesian languages. If English were to have such grammatical features, it would allow for structure like child-child to encode ‘many children’ (mimicking Indonesian reduplication) or I ta-talk to encode ‘I am talking’ (mimicking Bunun reduplication). Another amazing linguistic feature that English lacks is Echo Reduplication, which is the topic of this post.

Taking Hindi (Indo-European) as our starting point, we find the word shaadi, meaning marriage. The echo-reduplicated form derived from this stem is shaadi-vaadi, meaning ‘marriage, etc.’ or ‘marriage and such’. This grammatical feature differs from the other types of reduplication in that the reduplicant must change its phonological form. In the example above, sh- (pronounced ʃ) is replaced by v-. This is a productive process in Hindi and it can be applied to all major word classes. For instance, the verb likhnaa ‘write’ becomes likhnaa-vikhnaa ‘to write and such’, and the adjective moʈaa ‘fat’ becomes moʈaa-voʈaa ‘fat, etc.’. This process also applies to more recently borrowed English words, giving us amazing structures like pen-ven ‘pen, etc.’, ʈaim-vaim ‘time etc.’ and noʈis-voʈis ‘noice, etc.’.

This word formation process found throughout many of the languages of South Asia, although the exact details differ between languages. Kannada, a Dravidian language spoken in southern India, replaces the first consonant and vowel with gi- in echo reduplication (the vowel is long if the stem has a long initial vowel). We thus get examples where pustaka, meaning ‘book’, becomes pustaka-gistaka, meaning ‘books and related stuff’ and baagil, meaning ‘door’, becomes baagil-giigil ‘door and related things’. Like in Hindi, this also applies to other word classes, giving us amazing structures where doɖɖa ‘large’ becomes doɖɖa-giɖɖa ‘large and the like’, and ooda ‘run’ becomes ooda-giida ‘run and related activities’. The reduplicated forms behave grammatically like their unreduplicated counterparts. For instance, echo nouns can be objects in sentences (just like other nouns), exemplified in the sentence baagil-giigil-annu much-id-e door-ECHO-ACC close-PST-1s ‘I closed the door and related things’. The same holds for echo verbs, which take on the function usually taken on by verbs, as in the sentence ooda-giida beeɖa run-ECHO PROH ‘Don’t run or do related activities!’.

If English were to have such features, we would be able to create wonderful sentences like I am cleaning the tables-vables with the meaning ‘I am cleaning the tables and such things’ and I am running-ginning with the meaning ‘I am running and doing related activities’!

April 8, 2022

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