Reduplication in Rawàng Ata

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Rawàng Ata is a language that employs several forms of reduplication, and for several purposes. Several parts of speech can feature reduplications.

  1. Nouns

1.1 ‘Plural’ partial reduplication

The most common form of reduplication is the initial reduplication of nouns to indicate definite plurality:

the young women

the mansions

the turtles

As can be seen from these examples, initial reduplication copies only the initial consonant and the first vowel. If the vowel is accented, the accent is not copied; similarly, long vowels are copied in shortened form. If the vowel is a diphthong with -y, or if there is any coda consonant, or if the vowel is followed by a second vowel, all these things are absent from the reduplicated syllable:

the cities

The reduplicated syllable does not in any way phonologically alter the following noun – stress and accent patterns remain the same (the reduplicate carries the same pitch as the original, unless the preceding word ends in an accent), and the initial consonant of the main word is still treated as initial for purposes of allophony.

Indeed, the reduplicate is not bound strongly to the noun, and as a result the possessive prefixes of bound nouns are placed between the two:

those hands of his

those fathers of hers

This second example also demonstrates a rare phenomenon in which haplology has caused the deletion of a vowel in the bound noun itself that is then restored in the reduplicate.

Similarly, the diminutive yu- and the deverbals no-, ar- and san- are interposed between reduplicate and root, as is the augmentative/formaliser/feminiser anga-:

the little turtles

the performances of burning things down

This initial reduplication most often is used to specify the plurality of the noun (nouns are by default unspecified with regard to number). In this regard, reduplication may sometimes be used regardless of the definiteness of the objects, if the need to convey their plurality is great enough; however, most often the reduplicated forms are definite in reference.

As a result of this secondary definiteness, it is also not unknown to find reduplicated ‘plurals’ standing for singular items, when the need to convey their definiteness is great enough. This is not considered a deviation from correct grammar, nor a confusion of semantics – a native speaker would likely explain that although reduplication stresses the number of the items, that number may sometimes happen to be ‘one’.

1.2 Despective partial reduplication

Exactly the same process also occurs with a prefixed xo-, to indicate a contemptuous dismissal:

that contemptible little sailor

This form may also be used to form derogatory but non-taboo expletives.

1.3 Comprehensive partial reduplication

The same process also occurs with prefixed yoy-, indicating “all of the”, or more accurately “each one of the”:

each of his hands

1.4 Perplural partial reduplication

The same process may be iterated, with the reduplicate present twice. This form is considered a little comical, or at least not fully formal, but is nonetheless found in literature as well as in speech. The iterated reduplicated form has a ‘perplural’ meaning, indicating a huge or uncounted or excessive number:

a shitload of turtles

way too many young women

The perplural lacks the implications of definiteness found in the plain plural.

1.5 Intensive or recursive echoing

An entirely different form of reduplication is also seen with nouns. This form takes the noun and creates a following duplicate of the last two syllables, minus any initial consonant of the penultimate symbol. This forms ‘recursives’ with agent-like, part-like or relation-like nouns:

dockyard prostitute (lit. ‘one who sails sailors’)

his grandfather (lit. his ‘father of fathers’)

the tip of its tip

As can be seen, in the case of bound nouns the possessor is marked on the root as normal, and not on the echo.

Similar ‘recursive’ or ‘inessive’ effects can occur with nouns for places, or for nouns indicating both physical objects and locations:

hollow within a dell

postern (lit. ‘door within a door’)

The same process applied to other nouns can produce an ‘exemplar’ or ‘intensive’ form:

fine specimen of a turtle

performance of burning something down completely and utterly and rapidly with an intense fire

Case suffixes are placed after the echo. Stress, however, is placed on the assumption that the suffix immediately follows the root, and the echo echoes the stress of the root. Hence, the case form bolay-olay-si, ‘toward the excellent turtle’, takes stress as boláy-oláy-si – heavy penultimate retraction occurs in the root due to the presence of the suffix, even though the suffix is not actually adjacent to the root (and hence the second syllable is not actually penultimate). The echo therefore acts phonologically as an interruption that does not change the stress of the surrounding material. However, accent patterns treat the echo as a separate word, and the suffix as a third; likewise, allophony rules treat echoes and post-echo suffixes as independent words.

1.6 Fictionalising/imitative echoing

A similar echoing process is used to form nouns for fictions, imitations, representations, metaphorical things, and things playfully compared to other things. This form prefixes s-, l- or y-, or sometimes mol- to the echo (which otherwise is formed as above). This echoing can be lexical (forming fixed nouns) or expressive (making a one-off comparison), but mol-, which has a distinctly mocking tone, is only used expressively:

some ridiculous little thing pretending to be a proper young woman

stupid little pseudo-mansion

The three other prefixes are largely interchangeable. These can have despective uses, affectionate uses, or simply affectively bleached uses:

toy turtle

soundbox of an instrument (lit. ‘sort of like a house’)

Where the noun contains a prefix, this prefix may appear only on the original noun, where the reduplication is expressive:

his riduculous excuse for a father

Or the prefix may appear only on both the noun and the echo, if the reduplication is lexical:

her ragdoll (lit. ‘her toy father’)

Notably, the stress on mol- echoes falls not on mo- but on the following syllable (i.e. the same syllable as in the full noun).


1.7 Abstracting and approximating full reduplication

Nouns may productively be reduplicated through complete duplication, either expressively or lexically, though most resulting lexical items have loose semantics and an informal feel. Full reduplication is typically used in either an approximating sense (‘or something like that’) or an abstracting sense (‘stuff to do with that’):

urban life (lit. ‘that city stuff’)

a turtle-ish thing

Bound possessions cannot be reduplicated in this way. Other words with prefixes can, however, and in these cases the prefix attaches only to the second copy:

something like a giant turtle


1.8 Non-productive derivational reduplications

Reduplication has historically yielded several forms of derivative, including deverbal nouns, collectives, and feminines. These forms are distinct from productive reduplication due to stress and pitch patterns: fossilised reduplication acts phonologically as a single word, and may have the pure form of their reduplication obscured through sound changes:

cow (related to tùnga, ‘bull’, originally through full reduplication)

building (related to suma, ‘to straighten’, originally through partial reduplication)

heavy boot (related to marùy, ‘milk’ or ‘milk sheep’, originally through echo-reduplication)


  1. Adjectives

Reduplication of adjectives is in the form of full reduplication, and has an intensive meaning:

very thin (un-dense)

very honourable

An exception to this intensive pattern is the adjective lan, ‘muscular, lithe, healthy’: the reduplicated form, lan-lan has an inverted meaning, ‘weak, sickly, arthritic’.

Further exceptions are reduplicated numerals, which convey a distributive or collective sense depending on context:

three each or in sets of three

And similarly the adjective oròtu, ‘a distinctive/a specific’, yields a reduplicated form, oròtu-oròtu, ‘one specific one for each/in each case’.

It is worth mentioning that many adjectives originate in fossilised reduplications of a distinctive form, in which a final syllable, or elements of a final syllable, were preposed before the root. This explains, for example the relation of adjectival urù (‘honourable’) to nominal (‘legitimacy, dignity’), and of adjectival oròtu (‘a distinctive’) to nominal (‘allegiance, alliance, affiliation’). However, this process has long since ceased to be either transparent or productive.

  1. Verbs

Reduplication is used less widely on verbs, but remains significant. There are several forms of verbal reduplication used.

3.1 Pluractional partial reduplication

As in nouns, the onset and coda of the first syllable can be copied alone (shortening long vowels and dropping accents). This is used to convey ‘plural action’ – the relevant distinctness of occasions on which the action was performed. With transitive verbs, this typically implies the action being performed on multiple objects (for dynamic verbs) or by multiple agents (for stative or concrete verbs) on different occasions; with bivalent intransitives and with motive verbs, the sense is usually of action performed in stages, unless the verb is specifically punctual, in which case the sense is likely of multiple subjects on different occasions; with univalent dynamic intransitives, the sense is typically of multiple subjects on different occasions, while with univalent statives the sense is more often of the same subject on different occasions. However, the only certain and fixed thing is that the verb must refer to multiple, distinguished events.

Pluractional verbs are not uncommon. However, pluractionality is not obligatorily marked – unmarked verbs are often pluractional in semantics also, with marking only used when the pluractionality is significant, or for disambiguation. Transitive dynamics are the most commonly marked pluractional verbs.

Unlike with partial reduplication in nouns, the reduplicated element in verbs follows any prefixes:

kòma kufumù bolayma
the girl ate a turtle

kòma kufufumù bolayma
the girl ate several turtles (on different occasions)

kòmay kusakkunga dattàm
the girl kicked a sailor

kòmay kusasakkunga dattàm
several girls, on different occasions, kicked sailors

As with nouns, multiple reduplication can be used to create the sense of an excess. However, this is much less common than with nouns.


3.2 Approximating full reduplication

As with nouns, verbs may be fully reduplicated to convey the sense of an approximation, though this occurs much less often than with nouns, and has a very informal connotation. In these cases, personal affixes are attached to the second instance of the noun, not the first:

kòma sakkunga-kusakkunga bolayma
the girl ‘sort of’ kicked the turtle

As with nouns, this reduplication has sometimes been fully lexicalised, or even obscured with sound changes.

3.3 Denominative and detransitive reduplication

Fossilised reduplication has been used for several derivational processes. Two of these remain productive. First, noun reduplication can create verbs related to the nouns:

she is pregnant (from omaru, ‘stomach’)

Second, reduplication of transitive verbs can produce intransitive stative verbs, typically with an ‘adjectival’ sense, or referring to atelic, aimless action:

she was kicking out

Doublets may form from productive vs. fossilised forms of these reduplications, which often have formality connotations. For example, alongside standard-register omaru-omaru there is also the more formal omarmàru.

3.4 Reiterative echoing

Echoing, of the same sort found with nouns, can occur also with verbs. It is applied only to dynamic verbs, and conveys the sense of a repeated action. The semantics of this repetition, however, are quite narrow: the original action must be satisfactorily concluded, and the repetition not strictly required. There is usually only one repetition – further repetitions can be implied more colloquially through further echoing – and there is a clear break between the original and the repeated action, but not a large gap in time. It often conveys the sense of ‘and again for good measure’ or ‘and again just to be sure’.

kòmay kusakkunga-unga dattàm
the girl kicked the sailor, and then kicked him again for good measure

kòmay kusakkunga-unga-unga-unga dattàm
the girl kicked the sailor, and then just kept on kicking the shit out of him

Echoing is not possible in directive syntax. This may be analysed as either a morphological defect (confusion over the proper place of the suffix) or a pragmatic one (inherent informality of the construction).


3.5 Repetition in a serial verb phrase

Rawàng Ata makes use of serial verbs, including chains with repeated verbs. Although this is generally considered syntactic, it might grammatically and phonologically be considered a form of reduplication (in particular doubled verb constructions formed from stative verbs without motifs are phonologically indistinguishable from detransitive reduplicated derivatives, although they appear to be distinguished cognitively by speakers – in disambiguation, the pause between the two verbs is stressed in serial verb constructions, but not in detransitive reduplication). As with other serial verb constructions, prefixes attach to the first instance, and suffixes to the last. The semantics of these ‘double verb’ constructions can be erratic. Most often, they convey simply an iterative action:

kòmay kusakkunga sakkunga dattàm
the girl kicked and kicked the sailor

                datta wa wa bolay
the sailor kept on eating turtles

Sometimes, however, the intended meaning may be intensive:

lishi lishi datta
the sailor had a furious itch

Or durative:

datta ūjda ūjda kèrangma
the sailor pulled the rope taut for a while (or the sailor kept pulling the rope taut)

Or inchoative/inceptive:

yuòti yuòti kòma
the girl fell asleep

Or may indicate fleeting events:

tawa tawasa bolay
the turtle glimpsed it

The meaning of these doubled verb constructions must simply be learnt.

  1. Prepositions

Prepositions may be reduplicated to indicate approximation or uncertainty as to exact location (/motion, etc).

  1. Other Minor Parts of Speech

Several parts of speech – including verbal articles, demonstratives, and expressives – make use of expressive reduplication, typically for emphatic purposes.


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