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Review of  Distributed Reduplication

Reviewer: Michael B. Maxwell
Book Title: Distributed Reduplication
Book Author: John Frampton
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 22.3793

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AUTHOR: John Frampton
TITLE: Distributed Reduplication
SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Inquiry Monographs
YEAR: 2009

Michael Maxwell, Center for Advanced Study of Language, University of Maryland


At its simplest, morphological reduplication seems trivial: duplicate all or
part of a word.

Of course, it is not that simple. First, while morphology and phonology seem to
be finite state for the most part, unlimited (whole word) reduplication is not.

Second, when the entire base (the input to the rule of reduplication) is not
reduplicated, complications arise in specifying how much of the base gets
reduplicated. Generally, what is reduplicated is defined in terms of a target,
rather than in terms of what part of the base is reduplicated. For example, the
target may be a closed syllable, but the phonemes used to create that closed
syllable need not have constituted a syllable in the base.

But the greatest complications come from the interaction of phonology with
reduplication. Phonological rules which one would expect to apply only to the
base or only to the reduplicant apply to both (over-application), or to neither

All of this makes for fertile ground for testing linguistic theories, and
reduplication has been front and center in the debate between rule-based
theories and constraint-based theories. For a time, it appeared that
constraint-based theories (chiefly Optimality Theory, OT) had the upper hand; in
the words of McCarthy and Prince (1995), ''... Correspondence Theory is superior,
empirically and conceptually, to serial derivational approaches. All such
theories are incapable of dealing with cases in which B[ase] copies (or, more
neutrally, reflects) R[eduplicant].'' However, linguists working in rule-based
approaches were not about to accept defeat so willingly, and modifications to
rule-based theories have been proposed since then to address the recalcitrant
cases. Two of the best known approaches are by Raimy (2000) and Inkelas and Zoll
(2005); Frampton's book is now another.

Underlying Frampton's hypothesis is an approach to morphology and phonology in
which the derivation of a word consists of a sequence of modifications to an
underlying form, the final outcome of which is a surface form. The underlying
and surface forms, and each intermediate form, have the same essential nature: a
single autosegmental structure representing the word at that point in the
derivation. This differs from OT, for example, where the surface form is
selected from a large pool of candidate forms. Where Frampton's theory differs
from previous derivational approaches is the structure of those intermediate
forms, a structure which enables him to account for the cases McCarthy and
Prince claimed were outside the domain of derivational theories.

In the next section, I will sketch the outline of the book, while the section
after that will assess Frampton's success.


The first chapter introduces the theory of Distributed Reduplication in
relatively simple terms. Frampton makes an analogy with the biological process
of the transcription of DNA to RNA; like most biological processes, it has
turned out to be more complex than it first appeared. The same complexity is
true of Frampton's theory; while one can easily follow the derivations in this
first chapter, they become more baroque in later chapters. But in its basic
form, reduplication happens when the morphology inserts a pair of junctures
(boundary markers) into the timing tier of the base, at points determined by
reference to the phonemes associated with the nodes in the timing tier. For
example, the left-hand juncture might be inserted before the timing tier element
associated with the first vowel, and the right-hand juncture might be inserted
before the timing tier element associated with the second vowel. The phonology
''responds'' by copying the entire timing tier to the left or right of the base's
timing tier, and then removing the junctures; Frampton refers to this process as

The result of this copying is that reduplicated forms resemble geminates in
their structure. But whereas geminates consist of a single phoneme linked to two
timing slots, reduplicants consist of a sequence of phonemes each linked to two
timing slots. Crucially, this results in crossing association lines, i.e.
violations of the No Crossing Constraint (NCC). Frampton assumes that the NCC
violations need not be immediately repaired--indeed, they can stay around until
the end of the phonological derivation, but they must be resolved before the
phonetic interface. That is, the NCC is an interface condition.

Complications arise in reduplication as a result of the fact that some
phonological rules apply after the junctures have been introduced, but before
transcription, while other phonological rules apply between transcription and
the resolution of the NCC condition, or after the NCC violations have been
resolved, but before the phonology-phonetics interface.

Chapter two further develops the idea of transcription, and the application of
phonological rules to post-transcription, pre-NCC Repair structures. Some of the
mysteries of reduplication are said to result from this stage in which
reduplicated words resemble geminates, in the sense that there are phonemes
which are linked to two timing slots. In particular, under-application arises
from a generalization of geminate inalterability: a phonological rule whose
structural description is satisfied by the reduplicant but not by the base, or
vice versa, fails to apply for the same reason that a phonological rule cannot
apply to one half of a geminate. Similarly, over-application is claimed to arise
in a rarer situation where the rule is not blocked by the equivalent of geminate

Frampton refers to his theory as ''Distributed Reduplication''; the word
''distributed'' refers to Distributed Morphology, a theory originated by Morris
Halle, Alec Marantz, and others, which Frampton motivates in chapter three. In
particular, he introduces ''readjustment rules,'' i.e. a sort of phonological rule
that modifies certain forms in a derivation prior to the application of more
ordinary phonological rules, generally to produce allomorphs which are
constrained to a limited part of the lexicon. In Distributed Reduplication, the
rules which insert junctures into the timing tier are readjustment rules,
determining which part of the base is copied.

Chapter four discusses just how reduplicants are copied from the string of
timing tier elements between these junctures. The copying process uses an
additional pair of junctures, which serve as bookkeeping aids to show which part
of the string has already been copied. If this pair of junctures initially
contains part of the base, then that stretch will not get copied. By using
readjustment rules to position these junctures, junctures can double as a means
to truncate the reduplicant to satisfy a prosodic requirement, without affecting
the base. The use of transcription junctures inside copying junctures which are
in turn inside other transcription junctures can even be used for reduplicants
which copy non-adjacent parts of the base. Chapter five continues in this vein,
looking at how other sorts of variation in reduplication can be explained by
rules which insert transcription junctures, and chapter six shows how the
application of phonological rules can alter forms after transcription junctures
have been inserted, but before actual transcription. (I will have more to say
about this below.)

Chapter seven illustrates how the proposed theory accounts for reduplication in
nine languages; the variety of reduplication processes covered is quite
impressive. Finally, one appendix argues for the claim that the No Crossing
Constraint (NCC) is an interface condition; a second appendix contrasts
Frampton's theory with another rule-based theory of reduplication, that of Raimy


I will first make two general comments, before turning to an evaluation of this

First, it is not uncommon in presenting a theory of reduplication to show that
the theory is incapable of generating some construct or class of forms that
another theory could generate, and claiming that to be an advantage of your
theory on the grounds that the construct in question is unattested, and
therefore impossible. Frampton makes such claims (e.g. in arguing on pp. 86-88
against Inkelas and Zoll 2000), but he is certainly not the only morphologist to
use this argument, and similar arguments have been used in other areas of
linguistics. I believe that there are two reasons this kind of argument is a bad

First, there is no guarantee that the subset of languages that have thus far
been analyzed by linguists exhausts the possible human languages. There are
instances of word-level stress systems, for example, which are attested in only
a few languages--or depending on the granularity of one's typology, in only one
language (Gordon 2002, Bane and Riggle 2008). When a language construct can be
that rare, for whatever reason, then the probability that at least some as yet
unattested systems actually exist is high.

Second, if one's theory is intended to be a theory of how the human mind ''does''
language, then the lack of a construct in any known language might not mean that
the non-existence of the construction is because the human language component
cannot deal with it. It might instead mean that there is no evolutionary path to
that construction, or that given there are only a finite number of languages in
the world, that the probability of a language traversing a path to arrive at
that construct is sufficiently small that we have no hope of ever seeing such a
language. In other words, the current set of languages does not exhaust the
space of ''humanly possible languages.'' This point has of course been made in the
context of phonology, most forcefully by Juliette Blevins (2004).

In sum, I do not find arguments from lack of evidence to be persuasive. Indeed,
it is quite possible that the kind of reduplication that Frampton argues is
impossible in the passage on pp. 86-88 is attested in the Pima language (see
Riggle 2006).

My second general comment is that I doubt whether anyone can hope to work though
all the derivations in this book with pencil and paper. There are simply too
many interacting factors (such as constraints on rules) for this to be done
reliably. While in my job as a reviewer, I should have verified the derivations,
I gave up after the first few. Verification--ensuring that the results are
reproducible--cries out for computational tools. At the same time, having spent
a year or two implementing a relatively straightforward morphological parsing
engine, I am all too aware that asking for an implementation of an individual
theory is nearly hopeless. I note the problem; I do not have a solution.

I now turn to discussion of some particulars.

One controversial claim of Distributed Morphology is the analysis of partly
irregular forms like English 'sold' as being due to a readjustment rule that
changes 'sell' to 'sol' (or rather, the phonological equivalents of those
spellings) in the past tense, followed by the addition of the regular past tense
suffix '-d'. An alternative analysis would be that the word 'sold' is simply the
suppletive irregular past tense of 'sell.' The evidence from English (and most
other languages) is insufficient, but Frampton makes an intriguing argument for
readjustment rules from a reduplicative process in Erromangan (Australian
Oceanic). He also argues against Inkelas and Zoll's (2000) analysis of
reduplication in this language, on the basis that ''massive and transparent
regularity in the lexicon'' must be explained by rules, whereas their analysis
assumes that the existence of any irregularity precludes explaining semi-regular
forms by (synchronic) readjustment rules. While the details are too complex to
cover in this review, I will say that I find this second argument less than
compelling; semi-regularities arise in diachrony, but need not, in my opinion,
find a synchronic explanation. Rather, whether generalizations for which there
are exceptions become rules in the mind of the native speaker, or whether they
are treated as a memorized set, is something that cannot be proven on the basis
of counting the number of forms which do or do not undergo the rule. We will
need some other tool to determine whether the mind captures sub-generalizations.
(This issue has of course had a long and controversial history in phonology.)

In the context of the discussion of phonological rule application prior to
transcription (chapter six), Frampton suggests augmenting phonological rules to
allow them to include a derivational constraint which expresses the ''goal'' of
the rule. Because the goal applies to the output of the rule, this extension
implies a sort of back-tracking in the derivation: a rule is applied, and then
the output is tested against the constraint. If the output satisfies the
constraint, the derivation continues, else the derivation resumes with the input
of the rule, but without applying the rule itself. Alternatively, several
different rules might have the same goal of creating a particular syllabic
structure, and the different rules are tried until that goal is satisfied, or
possibly the rule applies which produces the maximal improvement towards that
goal. An extension is the idea of rules that are blocked if their output
produces some undesirable structure; this is the opposite of goal driven
behavior. I found the discussion of these points unclear, nor was it clear
whether all phonological rules are supposed to be goal driven, or only some.

Goal-driven rules appear to be motivated as a means of building the notion of
rule ''conspiracies'' into the theory. Personally, I am not convinced that this
goal is necessary. The notion of rules which apparently conspire to meet a goal
need not, I think, be reflected in how the mind does phonology, any more than
the fact that giraffes have long necks need be driven by some kind of
goal-seeking behavior in young giraffes. Instead, rules of phonology may have
arisen during diachrony with the effect of making surface forms more like other
surface forms in the language; but that does not necessarily mean that the goal
of conforming to other surface forms need be reflected in synchronic derivations.

Another reviewer has commented that Frampton's theory ''seems to be so powerful
that I am left wondering if there is, in fact, anything that it CAN'T do''
(Haugen 2010:956, emphasis in original). Given my comments above that we do not
know what sorts of linguistic constructs are impossible, and in particular what
kinds of reduplication--if any--might be impossible, I am less troubled by this.
However, Haugen's other general criticism is that Distributed Reduplication ''is
a theoretical chimera that combines rules and derivations with output
constraints ... and evaluations of possible candidates.'' Most theories of
reduplication and phonology, it seems to me, have become baroque (even OT has
sprouted epicycles since its birth, to deal with opacity). If we truly believe
that the human language capacity came about as a small number of evolutionary
changes, then something is wrong with theories that require such complexity.
Perhaps what we need is a simple but powerful theory of reduplication: one which
will inevitably over-generate possible grammars, in particular allowing for
unattested kinds of reduplication, but which is a plausible result of evolution.
The unattested sorts of reduplication can be ruled out by other means, such as
the lack (or rarity) of a diachronic path to produce them in the first place.

It may be that Frampton's analogy with transcription in biology is intended to
address this complaint, since it has become clear that the biological process by
which DNA is read and converted into proteins is far from simple. If so, I'm
afraid the analogy fails. The evolution of DNA transcription and translation has
been going on for billions of years in trillions of individual organisms,
whereas the evolution of language must have been a relatively rapid process in a
group of human ancestors which cannot have numbered more than a few millions,
and was probably far smaller. But I may be reading more than is warranted into
the fact that Frampton uses the analogy between language and biology.

Despite my misgivings, I will close by saying that this book is a must-read for
anyone wanting to understand the breadth of things that go on in reduplication.
My guess is that Frampton's cataloging of unusual processes (particularly his
last chapter) will outlast the theoretical contributions of this work. And for
that reason, if no other, it is worth reading.


Bane, Max, and Jason Riggle. 2008. Three correlates of the typological frequency
of quantity-insensitive stress systems. In: Proceedings of the Tenth Meeting of
ACL Special Interest Group on Computational Morphology and Phonology.
Association for Computational Linguistics.

Blevins, Juliette. 2004. Evolutionary Phonology: the emergence of sound
patterns. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gordon, Matthew. 2002. ''A Factorial Typology of Quantity-Insensitive Stress.''
Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 20 (3): 491-552.

Haugen, Jason D. 2010. [Review of] Distributed Reduplication. Language 86: 953-957.

Inkelas, Sharon, and Cheryl Zoll. 2000. Reduplication as morphological doubling.
[Rutgers Optimality Archive 412,]

Inkelas, Sharon, and Cheryl Zoll. 2005. Reduplication: Doubling in morphology.
Cambridge Studies in Linguistics, 106. Cambridge University Press.

McCarthy, John J., and Alan S. Prince. 1995. Faithfulness and reduplicative
identity. In Jill Beckman, Laura Walsh Dickey & Suzanne Urbanczyk (eds.), Papers
in Optimality Theory. University of Massachusetts Occasional Papers 18. Amherst,
Mass.: Graduate Linguistic Student Association. pp. 249–384. [Rutgers Optimality
Archive 60,]

Raimy, Eric. 2000. The morphology and morphophonology of reduplication. Berlin:
Mouton de Gruyter.

Riggle, Jason. 2006. Infixing reduplication in Pima and its theoretical
consequences. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 24 (3): 857-891.

Dr. Maxwell is a researcher in grammar description and other computational resources for low density languages, at the Center for Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland. He has also worked on endangered languages of Ecuador and Colombia, with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and on low density languages with the Linguistic Data Consortium (LDC) of the University of Pennsylvania.

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