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  • Paul Anthony Jones

Contrastive focus reduplication

(n.) a linguistic phenomenon in which a word is doubled to contrast its meaning with a different form of the same word

An ebook and a pile of books, an example of contrastive reduplication

When you go out-out, not just out, or when you order a drink-drink, not just a drink, there’s a name for that. Alas, that name is contrastive focus reduplication.

Not the most immediately interesting of names, admittedly (this is linguistic academia we’re dealing with here, after all), but happily this phenomenon also goes by the name of lexical cloning—or, if you want to get all meta about it, the word-word effect.

But let’s stick with contrastive focus reduplication for now—or, for brevity’s sake, CR. That’s a term that was coined in 2004, in a Boston University paper appropriately nicknamed the ‘Salad-Salad Paper’ [PDF] in honour of one of the examples its authors had identified:

I’ll make the tuna salad, and you make the SALAD–salad.

The paper explained that this little-described colloquial phenomenon works “to focus the denotation of the reduplicated element on a more sharply delimited, more specialized range.” Translated into, y’know, English-English, that basically means that CR works by contrasting two possible meanings or implications of a word against one another inside the same sentence.

So in the drink-drink example, the contrast is between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. In the out-out example, the contrast is the relative seriousness or convolutedness of the night out. One repeated word, two implied meanings—one more specific or specialized than the other.

The Salad-Salad paper also found that CR occurs across generations (examples were collected from speakers ranging from their 20s to the 70s), and can be used with all manner of word classes, from nouns, like book and drink, to pronouns (“It’s not mine-mine, it’s my parents”), adjectives (“Is he just French, or French-French?”), verbs (“Do you like-her like her, or just like her?”), and even entire phrases or expressions (“We’re not living-together living together!”). In all cases, the function of CR remains the same: to contrast two possible meanings of the same element against one another, in the same context.

It’s all very interesting. Like, interesting interesting.

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