Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I don't know how well your average US movie trailer represents spoken North American English, but I found it rather striking that this particular trailer contained not one, but two examples of contrastive focus reduplication in the space of 40 seconds. The first one is a classic:

- You like her?
- Yes.
- You LIKE-HER-like-her?

It's the second one, spoken by the lovely and talented Zooey Deschanel, that stands out:

- I got the baby.
- THE-BABY-the-baby?

According to Ghomeshi et al. referenced in the LanguageLog post above (preprint, section 3.4, p. 27), one of the constraints on contrastive reduplication (CR) is

(57) a. The scope of CR is either X0 or XPmin.

So if I got this right, in case of noun phrases, only minimal noun phrases (i.e. bare noun/pronoun) can be reduplicated and thus reduplication of a NP -> D N such as the one above should be impossible. And indeed, as Ghomeshi et al. elaborate:

Condition (57a) is violated in *A-LINGUIST-a linguist (cf. (47)): although the determiner is a grammatical morpheme, it is outside of NPmin, so it cannot be within the scope of CR.

The examples they refer to are

(47) a. Do you want [tu:] or WANT [tu:]-want [tu:]?
b. ? Do you wanna or WANNA-wanna?

(48) a. I wouldn’t DATE–date a linguist.
b. * I wouldn’t DATE-A–date-a linguist


(49) * I wouldn't date [CG A-LINGUIST]-[a linguist]

all from section 3.3 which deals with the optionality of some types of complements with some types of heads (e.g. pronouns or prepositions for verbs, PPs for adjectives). In comments to (47), they wonder if this optionality can be explained phonologically, i.e. those complements are considered clitics and they can, but don't have to be, included in CR. Long story short, citing Hayes' "clitic group" (CG in (49) - "a prosodic word plus the clitics to its right or left"), Ghomeshi et al. dismiss the idea of clitics being involved in CR, noting that (emphasis mine)

So in (48), date and a do not form a copyable clitic group, since a must belong to the same clitic group as linguist. However, Hayes’ definition of clitic group includes clitics on the left as well as the right, and these never reduplicate11.

Hence the asterisk preceding (49) - whatever the phonological considerations in CR, clitics to the left of the prosodic word (such as determiners in NPs) are never a part of the duplicated phrase. Footnote 11 explains that the only exception to that rule are lexicalized proper names (The Hague) and gives the following example:

The casino isn't in THE-PAS-The-Pas, but in Opaskwayak.
(The reserve of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation includes land that is in the northern Manitoba town of The Pas, but not legally part of it.)

This example, however, does not appear in Kevin Russell's corpus and, more importantly, it doesn't explain Ms. Deschanel's reduplication.

Now I'm way in over my head here, so my first stupid question is whether the fact that "THE-BABY-the-baby" doesn't appear in a complete sentence is to any extent relevant. Judging by the examples of same type given by Ghomeshi et al. (e.g. 7, 8, 10, 11, 17), I don't think so, but what do I know. The bottom line seems to be that we have a real-life example of reduplication of a NP -> D N, something Ghomeshi et al. claim is not possible. Would you agree or did I miss something?


John Cowan said...

It seems to me that this kind of reduplication is a very surface phenomenon that can cross constituent lines with aplomb: "You're GOING TO going to Japan??!" It reminds me of fucative-infixation: "Don't be so inde*@#$pendent."

(Hey, cool, the word verification is "phatic"! Couldn't be better.)

Language said...

"You're GOING TO going to Japan??!"

Doesn't work for me. I can't imagine anyone saying this.

I suspect the distinction has to do with "a" vs. "the," but it's an interesting conundrum that deserves further study.

*awaits research grant*

bulbul said...

the thing is, not all constituents. Interesting point with the fucking infixation. As we've learned from the Blagojevich affair, the point of insertion (heh) depends on the stress and so there too prosody plays some role. Who knows, maybe we'll have to revisit the clitics group idea.

yeah, doesn't work for me either. If I'm not mistaken, this "to" is a part of a prepositional phrase, not a complement to the verb.
How about "You're GOING-TO going-to do it?" and, for that matter, WANT-TO want to?

I suspect the distinction has to do with "a" vs. "the,"
I considered that, but they're pretty clear on this: no determiners. And it makes even better sense with the definite article. Normally, to provide focus, one would simply stress the determiner.

*awaits research grant*
Let's see what kind of corpus we'd be dealing with: Firefly, Buffy, Simpsons, The Family Guy, Gilmore Girls ... Count. Me. In.

michael farris said...

"GOING-TO going to" doesn't work for me semantically.

Basically the meaning of the construction is "the traditional sense" or "real" or "specific one we both know about" depending on context.

Did you go on a DATE date? (ie a potentially romantic date as opposed to friendship hanging out date)

Is it BEER beer? (does it contain alcohol?)

GOING TO going to is too modalish to have a 'real' or 'traditional sense' meaning .

On the other hand:

You're gonna MOVE move to Japan? (for the forseeable future as opposed to a couple week stay)


You're going to JAPAN Japan? (You're going to the country? and not Japan, Nebraska?)

It _might_ work for me with 'gonna' and no following verb.

"You're GONNA gonna?" (meaning 'you really intend to? seriously?)

verification word: tactupe, a small edible cactus from the highlands of central Mexico, it's blossoms have hallucinogenic properties

bulbul said...


"GOING-TO going to" doesn't work for me semantically.
Why not? I'd take it to mean "really going to instead of just talking about it like you did until now".
Same with "WANT-TO want to", i.e. "really want to or is it just something that would be ok if you were bored and had nothing else to do".

michael farris said...

I'm not certain, but it might have something to do with that final - to.

"You're GONNA gonna go to Japan"
sort of works for me in a way that

*"You're GOING TO going to go to Japan" doesn't.

Similarly, "You WANNA wanna do that?" works in a way that

*You WANT TO want to do that?

In related news:

I had a semi-debriefing with our Tunisian consultant in Field Methods (helping her with some transcription) and she says in her dialect the emphatic t,d,s,dh pretty much don't exist phonemically. As a super-literate teacher of MSA who's in frequent contact with non-Tunisian Arabs she thinks she might have acquired them more than most people, but she gives her sister as a counter example of someone who rarely encounters non-Tunisians or has to speak MSA where they're entirely or almost entirely gone.

On the other hand, doubled consonants take on some of the characteristics of emphatics and phonetically the initial dd of dda:r is emphatic while the initial d of da:r isn't (the final r is emphatic in both but that seems more allophonic than phonemic).

bulbul said...

Interesting. So it's not so much semantics as phonology that's the problem?
Thanks for the update. Where exactly is this informant from? How do they treat qaf and h?

michael farris said...

All she says is 'the norwest and then Tunis' she hasn't volunteered a place name

in adhoc transcription:

Nuskun fi Tu:nis la'asma le:kin e:na mishsheme:l lgharbi.

qaf is usually [q] though she gives [g] as an alternate a few times. [qalb] and [gelb] for heart

There's also a tendency toward devoicing final b and d (not always and not completely but it's there).

Interestingly moon is [gamra] (she prefers that to [qamra]) but usually g isn't followed by a (maybe the r is reaching over?)

h (as in nha:r day) is unvoiced which makes it hard to hear the difference between it and the pharyngeal h (as in ekhil black) though she's very picky about keeping them (and x as in sxu:n hot) apart.

David Marjanović said...

Interesting point with the fucking infixation.

The infi-fucking-xation, you mean.

(Hmmmm. Or maybe not, because English doesn't allow syllables to begin with [ks]. Native speakers? What say ye? Does infi-fucking-sation sound better or worse?)

David Marjanović said...

(Or infi-fucking-zation?)

Anonymous said...

nothing to do with that but with your post on language Hat about Wexler. Something you did not know :

The Ashkenazic Jews: A Slavic-Turkic People in Search of a Jewish Identity,
Columbus, Slavica, 1993.

Two-tiered Relexification in Yiddish: Jews, Sorbs, Khazars, and the Kiev-Polessian Dialect, Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter, 2002.

bulbul said...


um, I happen to own both these books. If you are referring to Motl's comment (or you are in fact Motl, in which case hi again :), I was pointing out that Wexler does not claim that Yiddish is "a two-times relexified turkic-slavic language". Wexler claims Yiddish is relexified Sorbian or some hypothetical (as in 'no actual evidence is available') judaized dialect thereof he terms Judeo-Sorbian. The 'Turkic' part is ethnic, not linguistic.

Motl said...

Thanks. But what language are supposed to speak turkish/turkic Khazaric "Jews"? It means that they jumped from turkic to slavic to germanic... according to Wexler.
Do you know D. Katz's "A late twentieth century case of katoves"? Some interesting developments about Wexler "oddities".

Mattitiahu said...

This isn't really something that I think I do in my own speech, nor did I remember anyone doing it around me offhandedly, but just the other day my sister said something with this contrastive reduplication when talking to me on the phone.

An interesting observation.

John Cowan said...

I don't have "GONNA gonna" either, but in my example sentence, "going to" is not a token of "gonna" -- it's literal movement. Perhaps I should have written "You're GOING going to Japan?"

D. Sky Onosson said...

I just heard a relevant example today on the radio, during a panel discussion of African economics on the CBC. One of the panel members, speaking of credit ratings, said

"...a [credit rating of] B-, which isn't bad. It's the rating of a Turkey. Not a turkey-a turkey, but a Turkey."

jcowan said...

David, fucative infixation in infixation is hard. I would tend to produce infik-fucking-sation, analogous to compart-fucking-mentalized, but I'm a little tentative about it.

I will mention here the recorded Australian example imma-bloody-material. This seems to be an entirely different kind of infixed fucative, one which replaces an unstressed syllable of the original with a reduplication of the form syllable-fucative-syllable. I mention this periodically, but nobody ever seems to quite believe in it.

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