Since writing about reduplication (choo-choo, splish-splash, heebie-jeebies) for Macmillan Dictionary Blog, I’ve been meaning to elaborate on a particular form of it, known as contrastive focus reduplication or just contrastive reduplication (CR), also called lexical cloning, the double construction, and word word.
It sounds obscure, but it’s a common phenomenon in informal English. This Zits comic illustrates it well:
Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, via Language Log
Jeremy can be “up” while still in bed because up can mean simply awake, as it does in the first speech bubble. So UP-up in the second bubble indicates a contrasting kind of up – “up and about”, i.e. out of bed – that the word normally refers to in the context.
I came across a good example last weekend, in Augusten Burroughs’s novel Sellevision [underlines added]:
“So, you catch the game last night?”
“Are you kidding?!” Max laughed with relief. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I’m totally addicted.”
Bob chuckled. “Oh man, last night was a close one, huh?”
Max rolled his eyes. “I couldn’t believe he blew it! I mean, Everyone knows ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ is from Beaches. What a dork.”
Bob’s smile fell. “What?”
“I just about knocked my wine over with that one. Evita? What was he thinking?” Max said, shaking his head.
“What are you talking about?”
“What do you mean? Last night’s game. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
“I wasn’t talking about that,” Bob said sourly. “I was talking about the game game. The Mets versus the Cardinals. Not some game show.”
Bob’s “the game game” denotes a type of game – baseball, I think – that’s more typical of game in the context of two American men discussing “the game last night”, just as being up out of bed, as distinct from being merely awake, is what’s normally meant by up in relation to bed.
These are the default, the more “true” or “real” meanings, and contrastive reduplication (UP-up, GAME-game) aims to resolve the ambiguity of reference by stressing whatever meaning is prototypical.
So far we’ve seen a preposition and a noun reduplicated in this way; it also happens with verbs, verb phrases, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, lexicalised expressions, and even proper names. If my friend and I know multiple Anns, one of them well, we might sometimes say ANN-Ann to preclude potential confusion.
Here’s a tweet from last year with a contrastively reduplicated like (v.) (along with a few filler likes and a hashtag):
For CR to work, there has to be some leeway in how a word might be interpreted – “a certain breadth of potential reference”, in the words of this Boston University summary (PDF).* It describes CR as:
a kind of clarifying construction that usually means something like “the prototypical thing, not one of the slightly non-prototypical things one might otherwise have called by this name.”
The Boston Uni notes draw on an academic paper, ‘Contrastive Focus Reduplication in English (The SALAD-Salad Paper)’,** of which there’s a draft available (PDF) from Ray Jackendoff’s website. Though technical, it’s fairly accessible and very interesting. The salad reference in the title comes from this line:
I’ll make the tuna salad, and you make the SALAD–salad. [i.e., green salad]
The SALAD-Salad paper discusses why CR happens, how it differs from other types of reduplication, whether it occurs in other languages, and how it might fit with contemporary grammatical theory. It also examines structural aspects such as what gets copied – sometimes it’s only partial, e.g. “I like wind-surfing, not SURF-surfing”.
Here’s an excerpt on how common (and contagious) CR appears to be:
CR is quite common in North American English. We have recorded it used by speakers in their 20s and their 70s; by speakers of British English; and by native speakers of other languages (when speaking English). One speaker of our acquaintance reliably uses it in our presence about once a week; one of us recorded three instances of it (uttered by three different speakers) at a single dinner party. Furthermore, even those who claim never to use the construction are sensitive to its contagious quality, once exposed. We have repeatedly caused an outbreak of CR following presentations of parts of this work. The phenomenon is of course much rarer in written corpora; however, we have found numerous instances of it in film and television transcripts.
For a taster, you might enjoy browsing the authors’ corpus of examples (237 and counting), which, happily, is online and indexed by part of speech and type of source, courtesy of Kevin Russell at the University of Manitoba.
Have you come across this phenomenon? Maybe you use it sometimes; I’d love to hear more examples. (Not HEAR-hear: more like see, here.)
An amusing example in Black Tide by Peter Temple:
Cam caught the proprietor’s eye. ‘What kind of tea you got?’ he said.
‘Tea?’ said the man, looking happier. ‘Tea? What kind of tea? Tea tea, that’s what I’ve got. In little bags.’
‘Two,’ said Cam. ‘Tea tea for two.’
Via @millymelon on Twitter: comedian Micky Flanagan explains the difference between going out and going OUT-out:
* Hat-tip to Language Hat.
** Written by Jila Ghomeshi, Ray Jackendoff, Nicole Rosen, and Kevin Russell, and published in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 22(2), 2004.