Friday, October 05, 2012

Looks like I might be one of those LINGUIST linguists after all

... because I may have come up with a property of contrastive reduplication that isn't already in the literature.

Here's an example of contrastive reduplication:

I don't drink that herbal stuff. Haven't you got some TEA tea?
(where the caps on TEA indicate stress.)

There are several labels for this in the literature: contrastive reduplication (Ghomeshi et al. 2004), lexical cloning (Horn 2006) and identical constituent compounding (Hohenhaus 2004).

I noticed the phenomenon in my own speech a few years ago (I found myself saying 'TEA tea') – but hadn't thought about it much until I saw an excellent talk by Ewa Waƚaszewska last week at the relevance theory conference in Poland. (The references to the literature are from her handout.)

The conveyed meaning is a stereotypical or prototypical category based on the lexical category: e.g. 'tea' covers many different types of infusion, but 'TEA tea' (as used above) only covers infusions made with material from the tea plant (camellia sinensis). More about meaning in a minute.

Contrastive reduplication (CR) is not just repetition of a word. As Ewa pointed out, the prosody is different (more equal stress, and a pause before the repetition of the word) in e.g.:

Give me something to drink, but not coffee. I want tea, tea!
Also what is conveyed is quite different. There is no necessary narrowing of the category here, just emphasis, and this is typical for repetition.

It occurred to me that another test is what happens with plurals. My intuition is that this is good:

Those people wondering around Warsaw are actually academics here for a conference. They aren't TOURIST tourists.

And this is bad:

Those people wondering around Warsaw are actually academics here for a conference. They aren't *TOURISTS tourists.

Whereas for the first word in repetition the plural is correct and the singular is impossible:
Warsaw is so busy these days. The centre is crawling with tourists, tourists!
Warsaw is so busy these days. The centre is crawling with *tourist, tourists! 
I assumed that this would be old hat, but Ewa and Diane Blakemore (who has a student currently working on CR) both said that they didn't think it was in the literature. So perhaps I am a LINGUIST linguist. (Despite working almost exclusively on stuff outside the language faculty, I mean.)

On the meaning of CR: I said above that it induces prototypical 'narrowing'*. If I understood (and remember) Ewa's talk properly, though, she was presenting (not necessarily endorsing) an argument that this is not right because the narrowings can be to different, sometimes largely disjoint, categories. e.g. LINGUIST linguist might on one occasion be narrowed to linguist concerned with language proper (rather than, say pragmatics), on another to linguist in the generativist school, and on another, perhaps to person who knows and can use many languages (i.e. polyglot).

I'm not sure if Ewa endorses this argument, but it seems to miss the mark. We know that prototypes are context-sensitive (since the work of the psychologist Laurence Barsalou). But then the fact that CR can narrow to different categories is to be expected, just as long as the result is always communicated to be prototypical. And as far as I can see, it is. TEA tea can be used as above, or it can be used as I found myself using it, to mean (roughly) British-style blended 'breakfast' tea, crucially served with milk (i.e. prototypical tea for the average Brit).

CR means something like this: starting from the lexical category, find a more specific category, which the speaker is presenting as prototypical.

Anyway, I'm not claiming that this analysis of the (procedural) meaning of CR is novel. It may be that something along these lines is what Ewa had in mind.

*The scare quotes on 'narrowing' are because I think that in ad hoc concept formation the correct formulation is to talk about clusters, not extensions.
See this post and our paper on the subject: Allott, N. & Textor, M. (2012). Lexical pragmatic adjustment and ad hoc concepts. International Review of Pragmatics, 4(2), 185–208
(I've edited this note to link to the new post and the paper now that the paper is out).

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