Partial labial reduplicants

There are often interesting queries about phonology on LINGUIST List, often followed up by good summaries of responses. I was cross-posting some of these here for a while, but it got just a little tedious. However, I’ll make an exception in the case of this summary, copied in full below the fold — it is likely of interest to many readers of this blog.

From: Mark Jones

Subject: Partial /p/ Reduplicants

Query for this summary posted in LINGUIST Issue: 18.2712

This phenomenon – at its most simplistic – involves the reduplication of a lexically occurring base element as a labial-initial reduplicant, e.g. ”easy peasy”. The element is often /p/, as in ”easy peasy”, but may also be /b/ as in ”rugger bugger” or /w/ as in ”piggy wiggy”. There is some fixed segmentism here (the initial labial element) and the base element is not copied on the basis of some CV template – the reduplicant is as long or as short as the base.

A number of correspondents furnished me with a list of English forms which could be considered part of this phenomenon:

/p/ reduplicants

Georgy Porgy, rumpy pumpy, hanky panky, easy peasy, higgledy piggledy, Andy Pandy, hocus pocus, namby pamby, roly poly, hodge podge, hokey pokey, lousy pousy, Alex Palex, Nancy Pancy, Rana Pana, Clairy Pairy, Henny Penny

/w/ reduplicants (NB only labial-initial triggers counted as true instances)

boogie woogie, piggy wiggy, fishy wishy, fuzzy wuzzy, bow wow, eency weency, pee wee, piggly wiggly, pussy wussy, Polly wolly, palsy walsy, picky wicky (cf. Pickwick),

/b/ reduplicants

hubble bubble (>hubbub?), silly billy, rugger bugger, argy bargy, honey bunny, hurly burly, itsy bitsy, itty bitty, lousy bousy, hillbilly

Comments and analysis

The /p/ forms may be the oldest and most simplistic in terms of the operation itself. The /w/ forms all seem to involve a base beginning with a labial element, so that the /w/ may be a dissimilated form of /p/. I term this ”labial dissimilation” on the basis of the trigger, not the output. Based on forms like ”teeny weeny”, /w/-initial reduplication may now be a separate productive process, perhaps even with a separate origin.

The /b/ forms fall into two categories: those in which both the base and the /b/ reduplicant are existing lexical items, e.g. ”rugger bugger”, ”honey bunny”, and those in which the ‘reduplicant’ is a lexical item, but the ‘base’ is not, e.g. ”itty bitty”, ”hubble bubble”. I interpret these patterns as follows. A /p/ reduplicant may be replaced by an existing /b/-initial lexical item (* rugger pugger > rugger bugger; cf, also ”lovey dovey” in Plag 2003). This link to /b/-initial lexical items allows the back-formation of an ’empty base’ (actually a right-to-left process of reduplication), e.g. bubble > hubble bubble, bit(y) > itty bitty. The ’empty base’ is either onsetless or has an /h/-initial.

Most forms end in ”-y”, so it may be that there is a schema-element here, or that reduplication also involves suffixation to the base, though there are some speculative forms ending in other sounds e.g. ”big wig”. Contra Plag (2003), not all forms are disyllabic trochees, e.g. ”higgledy piggledy”, ”pee wee”.

Some correspondents pointed out similar labial-initial processes in other languages, e.g. Dutch, German, Norwegian, Turkish, Abkhaz, Hindi. It looks as if these forms probably have an origin in the transition to language from repetitive babbling in child speech.

Reduplication is a subject which has been treated in numerous different ways at different times, and a long list of relevant (and occasionally not so relevant) sources was sent to my by some correspondents. I haven’t included these here as they are generally available and easy to find once you start digging, and more importantly, none of them dealt in any detail with this phenomenon (except for a brief mention in Plag, Ingo 2003, Word-formation in English, Cambridge University Press). I’m considering writing up a more thorough treatment of partial /p/ reduplicants.

My thanks go to Alex Bellem, Ricardo Bermudez-Otero, Dave Britain, Steven B. Chin, Izzy Cohen, Paul S. Cohen, Daniel Collins, Ioana Costa, Lise Dobrin, David Eddington, Susan Fischer, Damien Hall, Daniel Harbour, Pepijn Hendriks, Daniel Eztra Johnson, Veronika Mattes, Lise Menn, Andrew McIntyre, Fiona McLaughlin, Jenny Mittelstaedt, Ingo Plag, And Rosta, Christine Meklenborg Salvesen, Kim Schulte, Claire Stewart, Michael Swan, Jess Tauber, Bert Vaux, Joshua Viau, Max Wheeler, Nora Wiedenmann, Caroline Williams, Laura Wright, Bettina Zeisler, Zoe Ziliak.

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