Home » English » REDUPLICATION


I.            INTRODUCTION

Reduplication is a process of repeating a word, either wholly or partially (Brown, 2013). Reduplication is used in inflections to convey a grammatical function, such as plurality, intensification, etc., and in lexical derivation to create new words. There are at least two kinds of reduplication; full reduplication and partial reduplication.

We will discuss them in turn along with reduplicant position, and English reduplication.


Full reduplication involves a reduplication of the entire word.

In Indonesian, it involves repeating the entire word where the two parts of the word are separated by a hyphen. For Example (bahasakita.com):

  • Free bases (root words): kupu-kupu; tiba-tiba; buku-buku.
  • Base + an affix or more: perubahan-perubahan(from base ubah); tulisan-tulisan(from base tulis)

Furthermore, in Indonesian, some nouns consisting of repeated forms are single bases (root words). Many of these words are names of plants, animals, types of food and instruments:
cumi-cumi        (squid)
kupu-kupu       (butterfly)
alang-alang      (tall grass species)
gado-gado       (mixed vegetable dish)
oleh-oleh          (gift).

Sometimes it also refers to something having two or more similar parts:
paru-paru         (lungs)
baling-baling    (propeller)
anting-anting   (ear ring).

Indonesian full reduplication may also produce a meaning which is different but nevertheless related to the meaning of the single base (root word), or similarity.

Base Meaning Reduplication Meaning
kuda-kuda and kuda-kudaan
sweets, lollies
easel, tresle and toy horses
toy cars

Indonesian also has full reduplication with affixes. Most of reduplication with affixes is verbs and adjectives. Reduplication of nouns with affixes is limited to the suffix -an. For instance (Brown, 2013):


Dia berjalan-jalan ke pasar.
Gedung itu bertingkat-tingkat.
He takes a stroll to the market.
The building has many storeys.


Kalau mandi saya suka menyanyi-nyanyi.
Dia meraba-raba dalam gelap.
While bathing, I like to sing.
He is groping in the dark.


Mereka tertawa-tawa mendengar berita gebira itu.
Pria itu tergila-gila pada wanita berkulit putih.
They laughed and laughed upon hearing the good news.
That man is crazy about the woman with fair skin.

ber- -an

Murid-murid sedang berkejar-kejaran di halaman sekolah.
Kami bersalam-salaman sebelum berpisah.
The pupils are chasing each other in the school yard.
We shake each other’s hand before we parted.

ke- -an

Usianya sudah dua puluh tapi masih kekanak-kanakan.
Airnya jernih kebiru-biruan.
He is twenty years old but he is still childish.
The water is clear, slightly blue.


Sekonyong-konyong di memukul saya. All of sudden he hits me.


variety of vegetables
toy cars
pinching each other
hide and seek

Another example is from Kham, native language of Nepal, which derives reciprocal forms from reflexive forms by total reduplication:

  [ɡin] ‘ourselves’ [ɡinɡin] ‘we (to) us’ (ɡin-ɡin)
  [jaː] ‘themselves’ [jaːjaː] ‘they (to) them’ (jaː-jaː)
(Watters 2002)



Partial reduplication involves a reduplication of only part of the word.

In Indonesian, partial reduplication occurs only with bases (root words) which begin with a consonant. It involves placing before the base a syllable consisting of the first consonant of the base followed by ‘e’. The reduplicated word has a meaning which is the same as that of the single form or related to.

roots meaning Partial red. meaning
tangga ladder tetangga neighbor
jaka bachelor jejaka bachelor
laki husband lelaki man
luhur noble leluhur ancestor
tamu guest tetamu guests
tua old tetua elders

Another example is from Marshallese, a Malayo-Polynesian language spoken in the Marshall Islands,  that forms words meaning ‘to wear X’ by reduplicating the last consonant-vowel-consonant (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)


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

a)      Initial reduplication

In Agta, language of Luzon, Philippines (CV- prefix):

    [ɸuɾab] ‘afternoon’ [ɸuɸuɾab] ‘late afternoon’ (ɸu-ɸuɾab)
    [ŋaŋaj] ‘a long time’ [ŋaŋaŋaj] ‘a long time (in years)’ (ŋa-ŋaŋaj)
(Healey 1960)

b)      Final reduplication

In Dakota, Siouan language spoken by the Lakota people of the Sioux tribes of United State.  (-CCV suffix):



[hãska] ‘tall (singular)’ [hãskaska] ‘tall (plural)’ (hãska-ska)
  [waʃte] ‘good (singular)’ [waʃteʃte] ‘good (plural)’ (waʃte-ʃte)

(Shaw 1980, Marantz 1982, Albright 2002)

c)      Internal reduplication

In Samoan, the language of the Samoan Islands. (-CV- infix):

    savali ‘he/she walks’ (singular) savavali ‘they walk’ (plural) (sa-va-vali)
    alofa ‘he/she loves’ (singular) alolofa ‘they love’ (plural) (a-lo-lofa)
    le tamaloa ‘the man’ (singular)[1] tamaloloa ‘men’ (plural) (tama-lo-loa)

(Moravcsik 1978, Broselow and McCarthy 1984)


English has several types of reduplication, ranging from informal expressive vocabulary (the first four forms below) to grammatically meaningful forms (the last two below).

  • Rhyming reduplication: hokey-pokey, razzle-dazzle, super-duper, boogie-woogie, teenie-weenie, walkie-talkie, wingding. Although at first glance “Abracadabra” appears to be an English rhyming reduplication it in fact is not; instead, it is derived from the Aramaic formula “Abəra kaDavəra” meaning “I would create as I spoke”)
  • Exact reduplications (baby-talk-like): bye-bye, choo-choo, night-night, no-no, pee-pee, poo-poo.
  • Ablaut reduplications: bric-a-brac, chit-chat, criss-cross, ding-dong, jibber-jabber, kitty-cat, knick-knack, pitter-patter, splish-splash, 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.
  • Shm-reduplication can be used with most any word; e.g. baby-shmaby, cancer-schmancer and fancy-schmancy. This process is a feature of American English from Yiddish, starting among the American Jews of New York City, then the New York dialect and then the whole country.

Only the last of the above types is productive, meaning that examples of the first three are fixed forms and new forms are not easily accepted.

  • Comparative reduplication: In the sentence “John’s apple looked redder and redder,” the reduplication of the comparative indicates that the comparative is becoming truer over time, meaning roughly “John’s apple looked progressively redder as time went on.” In particular, this construction does not mean that John’s apple is redder than some other apple, which would be a possible interpretation in the absence of reduplication, e.g. in “John’s apple looked redder.” With reduplication, the comparison is of the object being compared to itself over time. Comparative reduplication always combines the reduplicated comparative with “and”. This construction is common in speech and is used even in formal speech settings, but it is less common in formal written texts.
  • Contrastive focus reduplication: Exact reduplication can be used with contrastive focus (generally where the first noun is stressed) to indicate the prototypical meaning of the repeated word or phrase. For examples:
  • I like it quite a lot but not A-LOT-a-lot.
  • Student:   I’m all done.
    Professor:   ALL-DONE-all-done?
  • Cam:  And it turns out my two best friends have been getting it on for a while. Me, I just found out.
    Jane:  Nell and Henry? Really?
    Cam:  I’m alone. I mean, ALONE-alone. I haven’t seen anyone since you.
    (Gomeshi. et.al, 2003)

VI.            SUMMARY

Some types of reduplication have been presented. We can classify them into two types: Fully and Partial Reduplication. Reduplication is also divided based on the place of reduplicant. The types are initial, final, and internal reduplication. We have seen some examples from some languages in every type, but English has its own types of reduplication. They are rhyming reduplication, exact reduplications (baby-talk-like) , ablaut reduplications, and Shm-reduplication which express informal vocabulary, and comparative reduplication and contrastive focus reduplication which indicate grammatical meaningful forms.


Brown, Iem. 2013. Reduplication. http://bahasakita.com/about/grammar/reduplication/

Gomeshi, Jila. Et al. 2003. “Contrastive focus reduplication in English (the SALAD-salad paper)”. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.

Healey, Phyllis M. (1960). An Agta grammar. Manila: The Institute of National Language and The Summer Institute of Linguistics.











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.

Shaw, Patricia A. (1980). Theoretical Issues in Dakota Phonology and Morphology. Garland Publ: New York. pp. ix + 396.

Watters, David E. (2002). A grammar of Kham. Cambridge grammatical descriptions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81245-3



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