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Is there a word for words formed of repeating sounds?

Mama, Papa, ... Any other such words...

marked as duplicate by Mari-Lou A single-word-requests May 20 '18 at 13:53

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The distinctive linguistic feature in words like papa, dada, mama or bubba is called reduplication, or to be precise, exact reduplication, where a single CV syllable is repeated.

When infants begin to vocalize beyond crying, they imitate the prosody of the language around them with vowel sounds. When they are a bit older, a limited set of consonants — usually stops and nasals — combine with the vowel sounds into babbling, a word imitative of infant sounds like bababa. This repetition is called canonical or reduplicative babbling, which in turn is imitated in baby talk, or child directed speech (CDS), in a limited set of English words. Think of it as a kind of pidgin language between adults and children, which like any language, can preserve archaic features. Generations of children were taught the word choo choo ‘train’ long after trains were no longer steam-powered with whistles.

This feature of baby talk seems a peculiarity of English. Italian has a more limited set, but il papa is the name for the Pope, so I guess it balances out. Languages with highly productive diminutives, like Czech/Slovak -ko, tend to use those. The German CDS word for ‘doggy’, for example, is a double diminutive: Hund + i + lein, Hundilein ‘little doggy’.

This feature is productive in adult speech as well, with some baby talk borrowing:

Exact reduplication: bye bye, hush hush, toot toot, too too (as in too too much), la la, so so, gaga, beebee, papa, dada, mama, bubba (brother), wakey wakey. Words imitative of laughter or giggling: hee hee, ha ha, ho ho. With infix: yackity yack. Yada yada yada and blah blah blah would be triplication, I suppose.

Rhyming reduplication occurs when only an initial consonant changes or is added: teeny weeny, super duper, willy nilly, boogie woogie, walkie talkie, bow wow, argle bargle, hodgepodge/hotchpotch. Tra la la would be triplication. Ragtag was formed from two “normal” lexemes, but fits the pattern. Brand names like TicTac candies or the Southern American grocery store chain Piggly Wiggly.

A subtype of rhyming reduplication is shm-reduplication borrowed from Yiddish: fancy shmancy. This feature, combined in Eastern Yiddish from two features in Slavic and Turkic languages, spread from New York City to the rest of the US by the 1930s.

Ablaut reduplication occurs when a vowel is changed, almost always from a front vowel to a mid or back one: teeny tiny, shilly shally, dilly dally, hiphop, zigzag, seesaw, singsong, pitter patter, splish splash, mishmash, ping pong, tick tock, flipflop, riff raff. In the American South, mamaw and papaw ‘grandmother’, ‘grandfather’. With infix: tickity tock, clickity clack. Telltale isn’t formed as these words, but fits the phonetic pattern.

Another linguistic feature sometimes termed contrastive focus reduplication is where a word is repeated, the first instance establishing a meaning as ‘true to type’ or as ‘commony understood’ as opposed to some other sense.

This was in Delano, CA I was visiting my girlfriend (friend friend no relationship just a girl friend I'm a guy so that's ok to have a girl girl friend).

Though a bit confusing, this writer is insisting that the constituent parts of girlfriend be understood in their non-compounded senses: a friend friend (no romantic involvement) and a girl girl, a young woman (with whom he has no romantic relationship).

  • I normally love your answers, and this is no different but reduplicative and reduplication have been given as answers many times in the past. – Mari-Lou A May 20 '18 at 13:43
  • @Mari-LouA: True, but I doubt if those answers include all the features I discuss. I could have thrown in how my attempt at pronouncing great grandmother at the age of two became Googaa, which became her nickname, but thought that would make the answer too long. – KarlG May 20 '18 at 13:51
  • How is "bubba", exact reduplication? – Malady May 20 '18 at 14:09
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    @Malandy: because it is, as a large number of Southerners would pronounce it (buhbuh). A broader accent can lengthen the first vowel in mamma or bubba with a glide. – KarlG May 20 '18 at 14:52
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Yes: assonance. Assonance is repeating vowel sounds, as in your example. A repeating consonant sound in the middle or at the end of a word is known as 'consonance'. Of course, most are familiar with 'alliteration': repeating sounds at the beginning of words, but that is not what you are asking.

  • The original post did not ask about syllables. It asked about repeating sounds. The repeating 'a' s in 'Mama' and 'Papa' create an aural effect. The answer is not wrong. – Brenda May 20 '18 at 15:41

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