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.

Reduplication in Austronesian

Reduplication is a very common morphological device used throughout the world. However, Europe being an exception as it is an area where it is not very common. In contrast, reduplication is found all over in the Austronesian language family. Below is a brief account of the different patterns found in reduplication in the Austronesian languages.

An often cited example is the reduplication of nouns in Indonesian, which is used to signal plurality. For instance, anak means ‘child’, and anak-anak means ‘children’ (reduplicated forms are usually written with a hyphen in Indonesian), while murid means student, and murid-murid means students. However, reduplication in Indonesian is not restricted to nouns. Adjectives can also be reduplicated to yield an intensified reading, for instance tinggi ‘tall’ and tinggi-tinggi ‘very tall’. Verbs can also be reduplicated to encode that the event is done in a relaxed manner, without a clear-cut goal. For instance, makan ‘eat’ becomes makan-makan ‘eat in a relaxed manner, eat for fun (with friends)’.

Not all reduplication in Austronesian is not limited to these functions. For instance, reduplication in Batak Karo  (spoken on Sumatra), has several other functions than the ones mentioned above. While it can be used to encode plurality as in Indonesian (sinuan ‘plant’ sinuan-sinuan ‘plants’), reduplication is also used to encode that something is similar to the concept denoted by the stem. For instance, mbiring means ‘black’, and mbiring-mbiring means ‘black-ish’ (i.e. something similar to black), and bərku ‘coconut shell’ in the reduplicated form bərku-bərku means ‘skull’ (i.e. something similar (in shape) to a coconut shell’).

As the attentive reader will have noticed, in all the examples above, the entire word stem is repeated. This is often referred to as ‘Full Reduplication’. This is not the only pattern found among Austronesian languages. Another common type of reduplication is to only repeat a part of the word stem, as in the Austronesian language Bunun (spoken on Taiwan), where one repeats the first sequence of a consonant and a vowel of a word. This can be seen in the reduplicated forms of ma’un ‘eat’, ma-ma’un and bazbaz ‘talk’, ba-bazbaz, where the reduplication encodes that the event is habitually repeated. This is not the only meaning available for reduplication in Bunun, as in bicvaqan ‘to thunder’, bi-bicvaqan ‘to thunder a lot’. This pattern is known as ‘Partial Reduplication’.

An interesting subtype of partial reduplication can be found in Puyuma, (spoken on Taiwan). Here, the first consonant of a stem is reduplicated. However, since a sequence of the same consonant in the beginning of a word is not allow in Puyuma, an extra vowel is inserted to separate the two. An illustration will help to clarify this: the first consonant of duduk ‘to pound’ is repeated to become d-duduk, and in order to avoid the sequence d-d, the vowel /a/ is inserted, yielding the form da-duduk, meaning ‘will pound’. The same pattern can be seen in litek ‘cold’, which becomes l-litek, and finally la-litek in its reduplicated form to mean ‘become cold’. These are both examples of reduplication, even though the vowel in the reduplicated part is not the same as in the stem. The choice of vowel here is arbitrary: In Indonesian, a similar pattern is found, but a schwa vowel /ə/ is inserted instead: pə-pohonan ‘all kinds of trees’ and bə-buahan ‘all kinds of fruits’, from pohon ‘tree’ and buah ‘fruit’, respectively.

Two parameters of reduplication have been mentioned here, form and function: What is being reduplicated and what function it has. The variation that has been illustrated here is only scratching the surface of what is out there. For those interested in learning more, Blust (2013) incudes an extensive section on reduplication in his excellent book on the Austronesian languages. For those interesting in learning more about reduplication in a broader perspective, Inkelas & Downing (2015) has written an accessible overview of reduplication from a broader typological perspective.



Blust, R., 2013. The austronesian languages. Asia-Pacific Linguistics, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

Inkelas, S. and Downing, L.J., 2015. What is reduplication? Typology and analysis part 1/2: The typology of reduplication. Language and linguistics compass9(12), pp.502-515.



October 29, 2021

This entry was posted in


Write a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *