The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Reduplication is a morphological process in which the root or stem of a word, or part of it, is repeated. Reduplication is used both inflectionally to convey a grammatical function, such as plurality, intensification, etc., and derivationally to create new words. It is found in many languages, though its importance and productivity varies.


Typological description


Reduplication is often described phonologically in two different ways: (1) as reduplicated segments (i.e. sequences of consonants/vowels) or (2) as reduplicated prosodic units (i.e. syllables or morae). In addition to phonological description, reduplication often needs to be described morphologically as a reduplication of linguistic constituents (i.e. words, stems, roots). As a result, reduplication is interesting theoretically as it involves the interface between phonology and morphology.

Function and Meaning

In the Malayo-Polynesian family, reduplication is used to form plurals:

  • Bahasa Malay rumah "house", rumah-rumah "houses".
  • Hawaiian has the important example wiki-wiki.

The Nama language uses reduplication to increase the force of a verb: go, "look;", go-go "examine with attention".

Chinese also uses reduplication: 人 rn for "person", 人人 rnrn 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 only found 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 am missing, I was missing")
  • δερκομαι, δεδορκα, (Greek, "I see, I saw"; these Greek examples exhibit ablaut as well as reduplication)
  • hitan, hahit (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. E.g. Sin viisi jtel, pullapitkon ja karkkia, sek 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.

  • 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"

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.

example: Si chunt se Chrischtboum cho schmcke.
literal translation: she comes our Christmas tree come adorn
translation She comes to adorn our Christmas tree.
example: Si lat ne nid la schlafe.
literal translation: she lets him not let sleep
translation: She doesn't let him sleep.

English reduplication

English uses some kinds of reduplication, mostly for informal vocabulary. There are three types:

  • Rhyming reduplications: abracadabra, boogie-woogie, bow-wow, chock-a-block, claptrap, gang-bang, eency-weeny, fuddy-duddy, fuzzy-wuzzy, hanky-panky, harum-scarum, heebie-jeebies, helter-skelter, herky-jerky, hi-fi, higgledy-piggledy, hobnob, Hobson-Jobson, hocus-pocus, hodge-podge, hoity-toity, hokey-pokey, honey-bunny, hubble-bubble, hugger-mugger, Humpty-Dumpty, 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, roly-poly, sci-fi, super-duper, teenie-weenie, tidbit, walkie-talkie, willy-nilly, wingding
  • Exact reduplications (baby-talk-like): bonbon, bye-bye, choo-choo, chop-chop, chow-chow, dum-dum, fifty-fifty, go-go, goody-goody, knock-knock, no-no, pee-pee, poo-poo, pooh-pooh, rah-rah, so-so, tsk-tsk, wee-wee.
  • Ablaut reduplications: bric-a-brac, chit-chat, criss-cross, dilly-dally, ding-dong, fiddle-faddle, flimflam, flip-flop, hippety-hoppety, kitcat, knick-knack, mish-mash, ping-pong, pitter-patter, riff-raff, riprap, see-saw, shilly-shally, sing-song, 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.

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 that can be used with most any word; e.g. baby-shmaby or car-shmar.

See also: augment

External links


  • Alderete, John; Benua, Laura; Gnanadesikan, Amalia E.; Beckman, Jill N.; McCarthy, John J.; & Urbanczyk, Suzanne. (1999). Reduplication with fixed segmentism. Linguistic Inquiry, 30, 327-364. (Online version ROA 226-1097 available at
  • Broselow, Ellen; & McCarthy, John J. (1984). A theory of internal reduplication. The linguistic review, 3, 25-88.
  • Cooper, William E.; & Ross, "Hj" John R. (1975). World order. In R. E. Grossman, L. J. San, & T. J. Vance (Eds.), Papers from the parasession on functionalism (pp. 63-111). Chicago, IL: Chicago Linguistic Society.
  • Key, Harold. (1965). Some semantic functions of reduplication in various languages. Anthropological Linguistics, 7 (3), 88-101.
  • Marantz, Alec. (1982). Re reduplication. Linguistic Inquiry, 13, 435-382.
  • McCarthy, John J.; & Prince, Alan S. (1986 [1996]). Prosodic morphology 1986. Technical report #32. Rutger University Center for Cognitive Science. (Unpublished revised version of the 1986 paper available online on McCarthy's website:
  • McCarthy, John J.; & Prince, Alan S. (1995). Faithfulness and reduplicative identity. In J. Beckman, S. Urbanczyk, & L. W. Dickey (Eds.), University of Massachusetts occasional papers in linguistics 18: Papers in optimality theory (pp. 249-384). Amherst, MA: Graduate Linguistics Students Association. (Available online on the Rutgers Optimality Archive website:
  • McCarthy, John J.; & Prince, Alan S. (1999). Faithfulness and identity in prosodic morphology. In R. Kager, H. van der Hulst, & W. Zonneveld (Eds.), The prosody morphology interface (pp. 218-309). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Available online on the Rutgers Optimality Archive website:
  • Moravcsik, Edith. (1978). Reduplicative constructions. In J. H. Greenberg (Ed.), Universals of human language: Word structure (Vol. 3, pp. 297-334). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Raimy, Eric. (2000). Remarks on backcopying. Linguistic Inquiry, 31, 541-552.
  • Thun, Nils. (1963). Reduplicative words in English: A study of formations of the types tick-tock, hurly-burly, and shilly-shally. Uppsala.
  • Wilbur, Ronnie B. (1973). The phonology of reduplication. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois).
Last updated: 05-07-2005 16:00:00
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04