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Review of  Twice as Meaningful

Reviewer: Michael B. Maxwell
Book Title: Twice as Meaningful
Book Author: Silvia Kouwenberg
Publisher: Battlebridge Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 15.1689

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Date: Mon, 31 May 2004 19:50:29 -0500
From: Mike Maxwell
Subject: Twice as Meaningful: Reduplication in Pidgins, Creoles

EDITOR: Kouwenberg, Silvia
TITLE: Twice as Meaningful
SUBTITLE: Reduplication in Pidgins, Creoles and Other Contact Languages
SERIES: Westminster Creolistics Series - 8
PUBLISHER: Battlebridge Publications
YEAR: 2003

Mike Maxwell, Linguistic Data Consortium / University of Pennsylvania.

For those who speak languages like English, reduplication
seems at the same time exotic, rare, and (for linguists, at
least) fascinating. Fascinating it may be, but at least in
Creole languages it is not rare. This volume brings
together a wealth of studies on reduplication in Creoles.

The relevance of this book for creolists and for
morphologists interested in reduplication should be obvious.
Lest other readers turn to other matters, at the end of this
review I will suggest some reasons this book may be
important for language documentation and description.

Most of the papers here were originally presented at the 4th
Westminster Creolistics Workshop on reduplication in contact
languages, in 1999. But there appears to have been a great
deal of revision between workshop and publication, and a few
of the chapters have other sources.

The editor, Silvia Kouwenberg, does an excellent job of
setting the stage for the collected papers. First, she
notes that defining reduplication is not as simple as it
might seem. She proposes a working definition, but notes
that this very definition is in need of study. (And I would
add that it may in part be a theory-internal question.)

With this caveat, Kouwenberg outlines the issues discussed
in the remainder of the book:

o whether the substrate languages are the source of the
reduplicative processes in the daughter languages, or
reduplication arose independently in creoles;

o reduplication in creoles vs. pidgins;

o the form of reduplication in creoles (complete vs.
partial reduplication);

o the meaning of the reduplicated forms.

To attempt to summarize and comment on all 34 papers would
result in a truly boring review. It should suffice to say
that while there is the occasional misunderstanding of some
theoretical point, or evidence which is not quite strong
enough to support the conclusion that an author attempts to
draw, I did not find a single paper which did not make some
interesting points. And while this is not really a comment
on the value of the papers, I found it refreshing to read a
linguistic analysis of other languages in which I could more
or less understand the example sentences without laboriously
working through the word-by-word translations. For instance,
example (38a) from Hubert Devonish's article on
reduplication in Guyanese Creole:

Mi sii wait daag, wait daag, wait daag,
aal oova di plees.
''I saw large numbers of white dogs everywhere.''

(Not all the languages are English-based creoles, of

So instead of reviewing each paper, I will try to summarize
some of the main issues which the papers focus on,
including the issues mentioned by Kouwenberg (above).

I begin with the genesis question: is reduplication in
creoles inherited from the languages out of which the
creoles arose, or did it arise independently?

One form of the independent origin theory would say that
reduplication arose from the innate language learning
program, operating not just to support learning of a
language, but in the creation of a new language.
Demonstrating this, however, requires demonstrating the
implausibility of other explanations for the origin of
reduplication in the creoles.

Naively, this might seem an easy question to answer: if
reduplication happens in the same way, performing the same
function, in the substrate language and in the creole, then
surely the simplest explanation is that reduplication in the
creole was borrowed from the substrate (or substrates). And
indeed one can point to similar kinds of reduplication in
many of the predecessor languages (e.g. the West African
languages spoken by the presumed ancestors of the later
speakers of Caribbean creoles).

Nevertheless, it is not at all clear that the reduplication
processes found in the creoles were inherited. The
functions of reduplication (and in many, if not most, of
languages, both creole and substrate, reduplication plays
many roles) are not an exact match, and the form of
reduplication is often quite distinct. (More on the latter
below.) Moreover, the function of reduplication is so often
iconic (bearing meanings like ''more of'', ''repeated action'',
etc.) that even where functions match between substrate and
creole, one is left wondering whether this is simply

Given that reduplication is so often iconic, the best
evidence for transfer might come from non-iconic
reduplication, provided this can be related to similar
non-iconic reduplication in one of the source languages.
An example might be the use of reduplication to indicate
attenuation (such as 'redi-redi' for ''a little
red'', an example in Parkvall's paper ''Reduplication in the
Atlantic Creoles''). But in the end even this is
questionable; relatively few productive uses of reduplication
are truly non-iconic, and for those that are non-iconic,
the correspondences between reduplication in substrate and
creole often seem shaky.

Concerning this last point, Bakker writes (pg. 79):

Reduplication exists in (almost?) all West
African language families, although its
semantic functions vary widely. It should
be easy to find productive process of
reduplication in West African languages that
are similar to [Saramaccan] reduplications.

I suspect that it may be all too easy, so that any
similarity between the function of reduplication in
Saramaccan and a West African language might be purely

But suppose for a moment that reduplication in creoles is in
fact carried over from pidgins. One might then hope that
the mechanism of this transfer would be discoverable. In
particular, if one assumes that creoles arose from the
substrate languages by way of an intermediate pidgin, then
one might suppose that reduplication entered the creole by
way of that intermediate. And until recently, it was
believed that reduplication was commonplace in pidgins,
allowing for just such an uninterrupted trail. Un-
fortunately for this theory, Bakker shows in his paper (and
several other authors further substantiate the point) that
contrary to the received notion, there are very few attested
instances of reduplication in (true) pidgin languages.
Assuming Bakker to be correct--and his evidence seems quite
convincing, once languages which have been called pidgins
but which for one reason or another do not fall squarely
into this category (I will resist the temptation to say
'pigeonhole') are removed from the sample--the presumed
simple chain of transfer is broken.

However, it seems quite possible that creoles and other
languages having reduplication co-existed for a period in an
adstrate relation, and that bilingual creole speakers
borrowed reduplication from the latter. Something very much
like this situation existed (and still exists) in some of
the Creole Englishes of Liberia, one of which Singler
discusses in his article. Unfortunately for our purposes,
this is not a good test case for the borrowing theory, since
true reduplication turns out not to be productive in this
language. The situation is clearer for some of the
Indo-Portuguese Creoles, where borrowing of reduplication
from the adstrate languages seems indisputable. This does
not of course establish that this form of inheritance
accounts for all cases, but it is at least suggestive.

The form of reduplication is given some attention in many
of the papers, although for some of the languages with
partial reduplication, I would have preferred more details.
In particular, there are a few cases where the rules or
generalizations do not seem to match the examples.

Whole word reduplication is common in the creoles, almost to
the exclusion of partial reduplication, whereas partial
reduplication seems the norm in ''older'' languages, including
many of the substrate (and adstrate) languages where these
are known. The difference in the form of reduplication
again makes the case for a substrate source of reduplication
again seem weak (and it might argue against an adstrate
source, although this is perhaps less clear).

But this difference between the form of reduplication in the
substrate or adstrate language and in the creoles seems to
me to be one of the more interesting stories these studies
have to tell; for it seems at least plausible that we have
found reduplication in its basic form, and that we can
track its historical development from the beginning stages
of iteration (repetition, presumably at the syntactic
level), through its early morphological stages (full word
reduplication), and on to various sorts of partial
reduplication--if not in a single language, at least in
related languages. Indeed, several of the creoles show
what look like early stages of partial reduplication,
attributable to the differential affect of phonological
rules on base and reduplicant, or length-based effects (such
as reduction of unstressed syllables).

One of the generalizations that one is tempted to make, is
that repetition consists of an essentially unbounded number
of copies of a word (think of ''big, big, big!'') or even a
phrase; whereas reduplication is usually grammaticalized to
allow a single, not necessarily complete, copy of the base.
Intriguingly, one paper (that of John Ladhams, Tjerk
Hagemeijer, Philippe Maurer, and Marike Post) alludes to
what may be a counterexample: multiple iterations with only
partial copying. Unfortunately, no data are given.

The meaning of reduplication also receives a great deal of
attention. I mentioned earlier that the this meaning is
often iconic. But there is a substantial range of these
iconic meanings, as well as many non-iconic (or even
seemingly anti-iconic) meanings, and most of the authors go
to great pains, within the limits of article length, to
elucidate and illustrate this. In sum, there is a wealth of
information on the meaning of reduplication here.

At the beginning of this review, I suggested that this book
may hold interest for language documentation and
description, that is, for efforts to preserve for future
generations the properties of languages which may some day
go extinct. And extinction is a possibility for nearly all
the languages of this book--indeed, for Limonese Creole (of
Costa Rica), two of the authors report that the language is
already experiencing both loss in number of speakers, and
loss in terms of the usage of reduplication among the
remaining speakers. In my opinion, reduplication is the
morphological process that can tell us the most about the
nature of both morphology and phonology. It is bad enough
when a language becomes extinct; speaking as a linguist, it
is even worse when that language holds clues that would help
us in a unique way to unlock one of the mysteries of human
language. The papers in this book, then, serve an
especially important role in documenting a particular aspect
of languages, many of which may become extinct, and the
editors are to be commended for encouraging this.

However, I believe there is more that this book can teach
us about language documentation than just the familiar
precept ''document before extinction.'' The terms ''language
documentation'' and ''language description'' cover a wide
range of practices, from simple (if extensive) transcription
of texts at one end, to more or less detailed grammatical
and lexical analysis at the other. The argument in favor of
the former is that there are so many endangered languages
that there is time for only text collection. The argument
in favor of the latter is that detailed analysis may uncover
rare but interesting phenomena, and that unless further data
collection is guided by analysis, there may be insufficient
examples of these rare phenomena in the corpus for future
linguists to be able to tell what is going on.

The data collection methodologies in this book span this
range of practices: Nordlander and Shrimpton explore
reduplication in a comparatively small (and translated)
corpus, namely the New Testament; and at several points,
they are forced to refrain from making stronger
generalizations because of the sparseness of the data.
Gooden's article, on the other hand, benefits from
elicitation of acceptability judgements from native
speakers, including the author himself, allowing for a
correspondingly more detailed analysis. (Dictionaries are
a third commonly cited source of information, although I
question whether lexicographers will document productive
reduplication.) My point is not to that Gooden's
methodology is better than that of Nordlander and Shrimpton
(both have their place), but rather that the range of
studies in this book of a single phenomenon, reduplication,
provides a unique window into the strengths and weaknesses
of the various methodologies.

(For the record, the studies do show that even substantial
corpora leave unanswered questions. Particularly unclear in
the corpora-based studies is the productivity of reduplication.
This can be a crucial question: since morphology, unlike
syntax, can in principle be simply memorized, one should
hesitate to base ones theory on a process which may turn
out to be unproductive. My conclusion is that if you are
documenting a language which has reduplication, you should
do more than collect corpora.)

Finally, I wish to add what may seem like a trivial
comment, about the cover. Finding appropriate illustrations
for covers of linguistics books must tax the abilities of
whoever does this. In the case of this book, however, the
illustration is wonderfully appropriate. (And no, I won't
give it away!)
Mike Maxwell works on morphological processing
and language resource collection at the Linguistic
Data Consortium. He has also studied indigenous
languages of Ecuador and Colombia, under SIL.