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Summary Details

Query:   English Affix Reduplication
Author:  Andrew McIntyre
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Morphology

Summary:   Dear linguists,

Here is my summary of responses to my query under (Linguist 15.1346)
on reduplications and retriplications of the type 'washer-up-er',
'giver-out-er-er', 'fillers-inners'.

Even with new references supplied by respondents, the constructions
appear not to have had much airplay. The most complete list I can
supply at the moment is:

-Ackema, P., and A. Neeleman (2002). Morphological Selection and
Representational Modularity. In G. Booij and J. van Marle (eds.)
Yearbook of Morphology 2001. Dordrecht: Kluwer. 1-51.

-Ackema, P., and A. Neeleman (2004). Beyond Morphology: Interface
Conditions on Word Formation. Oxford: OUP. (to appear)

-Bacchielli (1986), Termini frasali inglesi: aspetti e forme di
produttivit? lessicale, Urbino, Quatttro venti.

-Masini, F. (2002), Complex Verb Formation in English and Russian,
Unpublished thesis, University of Bologna. (The author is willing to
send you this if you contact her under fmasini@uniroma3.it .)

-Miller, D. Gary, 1993. Complex Verb Formation. Amsterdam:
Benjamins. (p132ff)

-Simpson (1983), Discontinuous verbs and the interaction of
morphology and syntax, in Proceedings of the WCCFL 2, 275-286.

-Sproat, R., 1985. On Deriving the Lexicon. Dissertation,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (p109-112)

-Svenonius, P. 2004. The Zero Level. Ms. Tromsoe

I omitted some references I was given (e.g. on -er nominalisations in
general) which mention the reduplication problem without an attempt at
solving it. It will be noted that the studies above to which I have
had access don't cover anything like the full spectrum of data; for
instance, retriplications like giver-outer-er were either not known
about or were left to languish in the 'too toxic' basket.

Below some comments on raised by respondents.

-Damien Hall pointed out the use of 'fixer-upper' (building whose
buyer is meant to fix it up), interesting because the nominal is
interpreted like a patient rather than an agent/instrument. The
patient reading of the suffix seems rare in current English even with
monomorphemic input (a precedent I heard being 'keeper' in sense 'that
which is to be kept'), so it's unsurprising that cases of this with
reduplication are not to be heard on every street corner.

-Monica Macaulay drew to my attention the problem of
'fucked-up-edness', and judging by what I find on the net, it's pretty
widespread. That the second 'ed' is pronounced with a shwa is, I
guess, a purely phonological ploy to break up clusters, cf. 'marked'
vs. 'markedness' (likewise 'cursedness, ashamedness'). But what the
second 'ed' in 'f*cked-up-edness' thinks it is doing there in the
first place is still unclear.

-Cases of retriplication (giver-out-er-er) are not as rare as I
thought earlier, cf. results for the string ''picker-upperer'' under
www.google.com .And Rosta asked a dozen English students about this
informally. A third of them preferred the retriplicated forms like
'washer-upperer', 'tidy-upperer'. He offerred the hypothesis that the
extra suffix might be added to conform to some kind of prosidic
template of the form trochee+dactyl. While one would want independent
evidence for this, viable alternative accounts aren't available at all
good bookstores. Perhaps the possibly related comparative morpheme
retriplication in 'more betterer' (internet-attested and passively
acceptable to me if I ignore prescriptive considerations) could also
be 'phonological'. English periphrastic comparatives normally have the
countenance of elsewhere forms used to get round the unavailability of
the -er comparative with certain polysyllabic adjectives. But perhaps
some varieties interpret the data in the reverse fashion: the
periphrastic form is not an elsewhere form but has a filter debarring
it from use with monosyllabic and certain bisyllabic adjectives, so
dummy -er is inserted to make A conform to the filter. If this is
right, we still have many questions to answer, e.g. why can this
process produce the very result that haplology operations try to get
rid of?

-Some respondents dismissed reduplication and retriplication forms
like 'picker-upper-(er)' as performance errors. Judging by the good
attestation of the forms, it would have to be admitted that it is a
fairly natural kind of 'error' for many speakers. If the notion
'natural speech error' is not oxymornic and is applicable here, the
problem is still worth studying, since we may learn something about
the grammar if we could find out why the grammar of these
constructions causes slipups. I don't know if it's a good idea to
dismiss the construction as some sort of idiosyncratic constructional
template perpetuated by immitation. Its actual text frequency is
extremely low; even very advanced L2 English learners are mostly
unaware of its existence. I have known about the problem since at
least 1995, and have since then come across only two examples in
normal interactions with English speakers (i.e. excluding corpus work,
etc.). One wonders if this is enough for us to learn 'picker
upper(-er)' by direct evidence, or whether it is somehow a natural
response to the the problem of how to affix left-headed structures
given the less-than-wonderful status of non-reduplicative solutions
('washer-up', 'wash-upper') for a sizable set of speakers.

Things that I got no further info on were cases with different affixes
(picker-up-ee) and cases with suffixes other than '-er'. There do not
seem to be event nominalisers of the type in 'comeuppance' but with
reduplication, and *'fixable-uppable' sounds dreadful (here the
bisyllabicity of the suffix introduces another potentially relevant

Thanks to the following people for writing to me in response to the

Damien Hall
Paul Justice
Francesca Masini
Monica Macaulay
Mark A. Mandel
Ad Neeleman
Simon Overall
And Rosta
Martin Paviour-Smith
Linda Thornburg



Dr. Andrew McIntyre

LL Issue: 15.1929
Date Posted: 27-Jun-2004
Original Query: Read original query


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