Reduplication is a morphological process in which the root or stem of a word, or only 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 often used in "expressive" language and is also often iconic in meaning (but not always). Reduplication is found in many languages, though its 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.

The base is the word (or part of the word) that is to be copied. The reduplicated part is called the reduplicant, often abbreviated as RED or sometimes just R.

Reduplication often involves copying only once. However, in some languages, reduplication can happen more than once (and thus a duple is not created). Triplication is the term for copying three times. Pingelapese has both reduplication and triplication.

Basic Verb Reduplication Triplication
 'to sing'  'singing'  'still singing'
 'to sleep'  'sleeping'  'still sleeping'
(Rehg 1981)

Triplication occurs in other languages, e.g. Ewe, Shipibo, Twi, Mokilese.

Sometimes gemination 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 & partial reduplication

Full reduplication involves a reduplication of the entire word. For example, Kham derives reciprocal forms from reflexive forms by total reduplication:

  • 'ourselves' → 'we (to) each other'  
  • 'themselves' → 'they (to) each other'     (Watters 2002)

Another example is from Musqueam Halkomelem "dispositional" aspect formation:

  • 'to capsize' → 'likely to capsize'  
  • 'to speak' → 'talkative'     (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 CVC sequence of a base, i.e. base+CVC:

  • kagir 'belt' → kagirgir 'to wear a belt'  (kagir-gir)
  • takin 'sock' → takinkin 'to wear socks'  (takin-kin)   (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)'

Reduplicant position

Reduplication may be initial (i.e. prefixal), final (i.e. suffixal), or internal (i.e. infixal), e.g.

  Initial reduplication in Agta (CV- prefix):
  • 'afternoon' → 'late afternoon'  
  • 'a long time' → 'a long time (in years)'  (ŋa-ŋaŋaj) (Healey 1960)
  Final reduplication in Dakota (-CCV suffix):
  • 'tall (singular)' → 'tall (plural)'  (hãska-ska)
  • 'good (singular)' → 'good (plural)'   (Marantz 1982, Albright 2002)
  Internal reduplication in Samoan (-CV- infix):
  • savali 'they walk' → savavali 'he walks'  (sa-va-vali)
  • alofa 'they love' → alolofa 'he loves'  (a-lo-lofa) (Moravcsik 1978, Broselow & McCarthy 1984)

Internal reduplication is much less common than the other types.

Copying direction

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):
  • → 'rain'  (ed-eder)
  • → 'straight'  (alg-algal)
  Final R → L copying in Sirionó (a Tupi language of Bolivia):
  • achisiaachisiasia 'I cut'  (achisia-sia)
  • ñimbuchaoñimbuchaochao 'to come apart'  (ñimbuchao-chao)   (McCarthy & Prince 1996)

Copying from the other direction is possible although less common:

  Initial R → L copying in Tillamook:
  • 'eye' → 'eyes'  
  • 'break' → 'they break'   (Reichard 1959)
  Final L → R copying in Chukchi:
  • nute- 'ground' → nutenut 'ground (abs. sg.)'  (nute-nut)
  • ' 'gopher' → ' '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)'  (ʦi-ʦ-ko)
  • 'snow' → 'snow here & there'  (tu-t-koːjoʔ)   (Broselow & 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 langugae of Malaysia):
  • 'to shoot (perfective)' → 'to shoot (continuative)'  
  • 'to marry (perfective)' → 'to marry (continuative)'     (Broselow & 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)

Reduplication & 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 Tzutujil a new '-ish' adjective form is derived from other words by suffixing the reduplicated first consonant of the base followed by the segment . This can be written succinctly as . Below are some examples:

  • 'red' → 'reddish'  
  • 'yellow' → 'yellowish'  
  • 'water' → '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):

  • 'ditch' → 'ditches'  
  • 'lump of meat' → 'lumps of meat'  
  • 'boy' → '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:

  • 'ox' → 'ox (distributive)'  (no-n-nowiu)
  • 'rock' → 'rock (distributive)'  (ho-h-hodai)
  • 'dig out of ground (unitative)' → 'dig out of ground (repetitive)'  (ko-k-kow)
  • 'hit (unitative)' → '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):

  • 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 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 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)
  • 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. E.g. 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.

  • 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"

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, a "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.

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 üse Chrischtboum cho schmücke.
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 expressive 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. 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 that can be used with most any word; e.g. baby-shmaby or car-shmar.

More can be learned about English reduplication in Thun (1963), Cooper & Ross (1975), and Nevins & Vaux (2003).


Lingua Franca

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.") [1] (

See also

External links


  • Abraham, Roy. (1964). Somali-English dictionary. London, England: University of London Press.
  • Albright, Adam. (2002). A restricted model of UR discovery: Evidence from Lakhota. (Draft version).
  • 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, "Háj" 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.
  • Dayley, Jon P. (1985). Tzutujil grammar. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Diffloth, Gérald. (1973). Expressives in Semai. In P. N. Jenner, L. C. Thompson, & S. Starsota (Eds.), Austroasiatic studies part I (pp. 249-264). University Press of Hawaii.
  • Haugen, Jason D. (forthcoming). Reduplicative allomorphy and language prehistory in Uto-Aztecan. (Paper presented at Graz Reduplication Conference 2002, November 3-6).
  • Healey, Phyllis M. (1960). An Agta grammar. Manila: The Institute of National Language & The Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • 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.
  • Nevins, Andrew; & Vaux, Bert. (2003). Metalinguistic, shmetalinguistic: The phonology of shm-reduplication. (Presented at the Chicago Linguistics Society, April 2003). (Online version:
  • Raimy, Eric. (2000). Remarks on backcopying. Linguistic Inquiry, 31, 541-552.
  • Rehg, Kenneth L. (1981). Ponapean reference grammar. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii.
  • Reichard, Gladys A. (1959). A comparison of five Salish languages. International Journal of American Linguistics, 25, 239-253.
  • Shaw, Patricia. (2004). Reduplicant order and identity: Never trust a Salish CVC either?. In D. Gerdts & L. Matthewson (Eds.), Studies in Salish linguistics in honor of M. Dale Kinkade. Univeristy of Montana Occasional Papers in Linguistics (Vol. 17). Missoula, MT: University of Montana.
  • Thun, Nils. (1963). Reduplicative words in English: A study of formations of the types tick-tock, hurly-burly, and shilly-shally. Uppsala.
  • Watters, David E. (2002). A grammar of Kham. Cambridge grammatical descriptions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81245-3.
  • Wilbur, Ronnie B. (1973). The phonology of reduplication. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois).fr:redoublement

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