June 28, 2007

Reduplication reduplication

In reponse to my post about contrastive focus reduplication, Jeremy Cherfas wrote to draw my attention to an anonymous comment at his Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. But you''ll need a bit of background to get it.

His colleague Poikileus had posted a sad discovery about Chanel No. 5 ("The sweet smell of agricultural biodiversity", 6/27/2007):

I have ... always believed that unless we can connect people emotionally and positively to the cause of agricultural biodiversity, its conservation and use will be a difficult sell. ...

One of the pillars of my belief has long been Chanel 5 perfume.

Isn't it derived from the Chanel 5 tree, also called ylang ylang? Botanically known as Cananga odorata, ylang ylang is a widely cultivated tree with heavily fragrant flowers, originally from Asia. ... Here in Cali, Colombia, where I live, the tree is common, and releases its sweet scent to perfume the balmy tropical nights. What better example could there be that agricultural biodiversity not only ensures our survival, but adds glamour and excitement to our lives?

That pillar received a devastating blow when a well-meaning colleague recently pointed out to me that Chanel 5 is a blend of entirely synthetic aldehydes, and has been since its launch in 1921. It actually epitomizes the industry's break from a natural to a synthetic perfume model.

The anonymous comment:

So you might say that Chanel 5 is ylang-ylang but not ylang-ylang ylang-ylang.

This is the first case that I can recall having seen of full reduplication of a fully reduplicated base. Though probably I just haven't been paying attention.

A less quirky but more consequential observation by Jeremy:

Here in Italy, when someone says they are "from Naples" the reply is likely to be "Napoli Napoli, o Napoli?". That is, are you really from the centres of Naples, or merely from the surrounding region. You sometimes, but not nearly as often, hear the same said for Rome.

This raises an interesting question: is contrastive focus reduplication a linguistic universal? I'd guess the answer is "no" -- if nothing else, it'll run into trouble with the morphosyntax of modification in some languages, and there are probably subtler issues as well -- but I don't have any evidence. This suggests a fascinating set of questions in the little-studied field of historical pragmatics: What is the current geographical distribution of CFR? And did it get that way through inheritance, through diffusion, through independent re-invention -- or all three?

[A half a dozen people have written already with various observations about "New York, New York". The usual use of this phrase isn't actually a reduplication, contrastive-focus-type or otherwise -- it's a sequence of two phrasal words, one the name of a city and the other the name of a state, which happen to be pronounced and spelled the same way. (But if you've ever been asked whether you're from New York, New York, or from New York, New York, New York, New York -- that's a different matter. And a big problem for punctuation, though it's easy to say...)]

[Eric Raimy (author of The Phonology and Morphology of Reduplication) writes:

Saw your post on LL this morning. Yep, 'quadruplication' is extremely rare so the ylang-ylang ylang-ylang is very nice. First case of it I've actually seen and I'd actually guess that 'ylang-ylang' is not reduplicated for the speaker who made the anonymous comment.

CFR occurs in Colombian Spanish too. I met a lawyer who came up to the English Language Institute at the University of Delaware who used CFR in English spontaneously one time at dinner. I hadn't used it around him so I figured that he might be transferring it from Spanish and asked him about it. He confirmed that you could do CFR with basically the same pragmatics/semantics in Spanish as I could explain how it worked in English. Most other people who I've 'poked' about CFR in languages other than English give a resounding 'maybe' in that once they hear it in English, then they think they can do it in what ever native language they speak but as you suggest much more work needs to be done to actually answer this question. In any event, CFR appears to be very easy to transmit...

I agree that CFP "feels" like something that's easy to borrow -- though a language that (for example) insists on quasi-verbal inflection for modifiers of nouns might have some trouble with it.

Here's something that I'd like to know about the Spanish (and Italian) examples. In English, my intuition (which I don't know how to test) is that the second copy is the head, and the first copy is the modifier. In Spanish and Italian, it should be the other way around -- is it?]

[Mae Sander writes:

I just heard a stand-up comedy routine on "that double word thing" in which the comedian (Alexandra McHale on "Premium Blend" episode #0709, on Comedy Central) said doubling is for sorority girls as in "I kissed him, but I didn't kiss-him kiss-him." I can't find an online version of this routine, but the punch line was a question asked at a bridal shower: "Well, if you don't know the bride, you must know the groom" and the answer was "I don't just know him, I know-him know-him."


[Leslie Katz writes:

There's a town in Australia called Wagga Wagga.

I've not been there myself, but I read a story about it years ago which so tickled my fancy that I've remembered it ever since.

On the outskirts of town, there's a highway sign, giving you three different destinations, each with an arrow pointing in the relevant direction.

It says,

Wagga Wagga East >
Wagga Wagga West <
Wagga Wagga Wagga Wagga ^

Does the last arrow actually go up, or down?]

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 28, 2007 07:50 AM