Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Damned if I know how, but earlier today, I ended up at the Wikipedia entry dedicated to the shm-reduplication and I was glad to see that it had been expanded considerably since the last time I checked it out. Among other things, the section on origin now cites a paper by Ghil'ad Zuckermann who points out a similar phenomenon in Turkish, the prefix m-, which conveys the meaning of "x and similar things". And that's when it hit me: "ketáb-metáb"! Jiří Osvald's Teheránská hovorová perština (Colloquial Persian of Tehran), one of the thin yet excellent language textbooks published in the 1960s through 1980s by Nový Orient, also briefly mentions this very phenomenon. I'm reproducing the chapter in question in full (note the typically tehruni "nīss" instead of "nīst"):

§ 106 - Ketáb metáb
Opakováním slova se změnou počáteční souhlásky na m se vyjadřuje "něco takového, podobného."
Ketáb metáb nadárín? - Nemáte něco na čtení? (knížku nebo něco takového)
Púl múl mohem níss. - Nejedná se o peníze.

§ 106 - Ketāb metāb
Repeating a word while changing the initial consonant to m expresses the notion of "something like that, something similar."
Ketāb metāb nadārīn? - Wouldn't you happen to have something to read? (a book or something like that)
Pūl mūl mohem nīss. - It's not about money.

So there. Any guess as to which was first, Persian or Turkish?

UPDATE: In the comments below, Etienne provides some more examples from Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages (thx m8!). I'll just add two Google books hits, the first of which addresses the Dravidian part and the second one provides an extensive treatment of the shm- reduplication in Yiddish and English and similar echo phenomena in languages from Slavic through Turkic all the way to South Asia. Looks like someone has already written that thesis and it's a pretty cool one.


David Marjanović said...

<raising one eyebrow if I could>


Wild, even.

Etienne said...

It gets curiouser! In neighboring Indo-Aryan languages there exists a very similar type of echo-compounding: what is even more interesting is that there is a clear areal split as to what the initial consonant of the echo-word is: Western Indo-Aryan (i.e. that part of Indo-Aryan geographically closest to Iranian) uses a labial consonant (thus Hindi PANI-VANI "water and the like"), with Eastern Indo-Aryan using a /t/ [dental or retroflex] or /s/ formant. Such echo-formations are also known in Dravidian, which, however, uses a /gi/ element as a formant.

An areal map of echo-formations with initial labial consonants as the formant of the second word would thus include Teheran Farsi as well as Hindi and Western Indo-Aryan languages (indeed one of them, Dogri, uses /m/ just like Teheran Farsi): I wonder whether Iranian languages/dialects spoken between Teheran and New Delhi share this?

As for whether this trait is ultimately Turkic or Iranian (or Indo-Aryan?) in origin...frankly, I wonder whether anyone knows. If anybody out there is looking for a thesis topic, this looks like a most worthy puzzle.

mark said...

Similar things occur in South-East Asian languages. Nick Enfield has described it for Lao and calls it 'Echo formative reduplication' (§12.4.1 in his 2007 Grammar of Lao). In the Lao case the vowel is changed:

There is a morphologically productive strategy by which echo-formatives are derived through alliterative reduplication. For words with back vowels, an echo-formative is derived by replacing the vowel with a front vowel at the same height. For instance, a derived echo-formative for khuq1 ‘bucket’ would be khiq1; for loong1 ‘coffin’ would be lˆeˆeng1; for c`o`ok5 ‘cup’ would be c`e`ek5; for k`ua3 ‘salt’ would be kia3.

b`oø mii2 c`o`ok5 mii2 c`e`ek5
NEG there.is cup there.is cup.ECHO
‘There aren’t any cups or whatever.’

A similar strategy, but involving modified initial consonants, is available in Semai and more generally in Aslian languages (Tufvesson p.c.).

mark said...

Another interesting variation on the theme is found in Kri, a Vietic language of Laos:

There are lexically specified elaborative couplets, where a standard word has a lexically specified double (an 'echo-formative'), which appears nowhere else but in the couplet:

rvaajq ‘spirit/soul’
rvaajq rlôông ‘spirit/soul and that sort of thing’
thrừang ‘stuff’
thrừang thràw ‘stuff and that sort of thing’
pừn ‘grass’
pừn pòòt ‘grass and that sort of thing’
hưưt ‘tobacco’
hưưt hooj ‘tobacco and that sort of thing’

(Enfield & Diffloth to appear, p. 47)

So in this case the first consonant stays the same and it's the coda that gets modified, although the forms seem not always predictable.

The semantics are quite similar to those described in your post.

bulbul said...

Thanks mark, that's some good stuff there! The second book I linked too also includes some examples from South-East Asia, alas, Google won't let us see them.
The obvious connection I have failed to make until now is reduplication in Austronesian languages, more specifically the partial kind. And indeed there seems to be something very similar in Indonesian. At the very least the first example - "sayur-mayur" = "(all kinds of) vegetables" - seems to be right on the money.

David Marjanović said...

So linguists say "to appear" instead of "in press"?

Fascinating, those cultural differences...

(Oops, I already said "fascinating" on this thread. Sorry.)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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