June 11, 2007

Contrastive focus reduplication in Zits

A few years ago, there was a paper: Jila Ghomeshi, Ray Jackendoff, Nicole Rosen, and Kevin Russell, "Contrastive focus reduplication in English (the Salad-Salad paper) ", Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 22(2) 2004. The abstract begins:

This paper presents a phenomenon of colloquial English that we call Contrastive Reduplication (CR), involving the copying of words and sometimes phrases as in It''s tuna salad, not SALAD-salad, or Do you LIKE-HIM-like him? Drawing on a corpus of examples gathered from natural speech, written texts, and television scripts, we show that CR restricts the interpretation of the copied element to a `real'' or prototypical reading. Turning to the structural properties of the construction, we show that CR is unusual among reduplication phenomena in that whole idioms can be copied, object pronouns are often copied (as in the second example above), and inflectional morphology need not be copied. Thus the `scope'' of CR cannot be defined in purely phonological terms; rather, a combination of phonological, morphosyntactic, syntactic, and lexical factors is involved.

This morning's Zits presents the comic-strip version:

In fact, this is taken directly from one of the Ghomeshi et al. paper's initial list of characteristic examples:

(1)a. I’ll make the tuna salad, and you make the SALAD–salad.
    b. LIKE-’EM-like-’em? Or, I’d-like-to-get-store-credit-for-thatamount like-’em?
    c. Is he French or FRENCH–French?
    d. I’m up, I’m just not UP–up.
    e. That’s not AUCKLAND–Auckland, is it?
    f. My car isn’t MINE–mine; it’s my parents’.
    g. Oh, we’re not LIVING-TOGETHER–living-together.

Kevin Russell has a corpus of 203 real-world examples on his web site, which attributes (1)d to a real-world interaction rather than to a canonical text such as The Simpsons or As the World Turns:

[A phones B early in the morning.]
A:   Sorry. Did I get you up?
B:   I'm up, I'm just not UP-up.

So Zits owes a footnote to Jila Gomeshi, Ray Jackendoff, Nicole Rosen, and Kevin Russell. It's not the same, I know, but I'll take it as fair trade for all the Zits strips that we've used over the years.

More important, I'm shocked to discover that (at least as far as the Google News Archive knows) the Gomeshi et al. paper was never picked up by the popular press. As I've often observed, the LSA should fire its public relations consultants (if only it had any) and hire a crew that knows what to do with a great story like this one. Maybe they could get the folks who handle PR for Roland Kapferer and West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers.

[For those readers who don't have access to the NLLT archives, and don't want to shell out $32 for a peek at Springer's copy, there's a preprint of the Salad-Salad paper here.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 11, 2007 07:11 AM