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  • Thao Triplication
  • Robert Blust

Following a brief review of Thao reduplication, instances of a more involved process termed "triplication" are presented and analyzed. It is concluded that while reduplication has a variety of functions with various lexical categories and may or may not be iconic, triplication functions only with verbs and is necessarily iconic. Triplication serves to increase the degree or intensity of the same semantic dimension invoked by reduplication. Another process termed "serial reduplication" functions only with numerals and involves two quite different semantic contributions to the resulting word.

1. Introduction.

Despite the ubiquity of reduplication as a word-formation process in natural languages, triplication appears to be fairly unusual. Moreover, to my knowledge no bona fide case of quadruplication has ever been reported. The purpose of this note is to document the occurrence of productive triplication and at least minimal quadruplication in Thao, a moribund Austronesian language still spoken by about 15 elderly persons in the region of Sun-Moon Lake, central Taiwan. Passing reference to Thao triplication appears in Chang (1998:285), where examples based on ten different stems are given. However, a number of other instances of triplication have since been located in Blust (to appear), as well as a single case of unambiguous quadruplication.1

Before presenting the data that support this claim, a word is in order regarding definitions. When a speaker of Tok Pisin says Em i go go go go go 'He went on and on and on', are we speaking of a morphological process (in this case quintuplication) that is used in building words, or are we instead speaking of a syntactic device for modifying meaning? In this particular case it seems clear that the repetition of the verb has nothing to do with word-building, but is a syntactic means of expressing the continuation of an action. Cases such as this one, however, do suggest that the line between morphology and syntax may sometimes be hard to draw.

All but one of the examples of triplication in Thao seem clearly to involve a word-building process. In many cases iteration of the base occurs in conjunction with affixation, and iteration itself may make use of more than one pattern in the [End Page 324] same base. Moreover, some words occur both in reduplicated and in triplicated form, with semantic nuances distinguishing the two. In many cases words formed by multiple iteration cannot be predicted from the general morphological or syntactic resources of the language, and so must be stored as separate lexical entries. In short, then, there is no a priori reason to doubt that the examples that will be given below are genuine instances of triplication, and in one instance, of quadruplication.

2. Thao Reduplication.

In order to discuss triplication in Thao it will first be useful to have a concise overview of reduplication patterns in the language. Most of these are summarized in Chang (1998), which provides an analysis in terms of the constraint-based model of Optimality Theory. Chang (1998:279) recognizes 'three productive patterns of reduplication' in Thao: (1) full reduplication, (2) Ca- reduplication, and (3) rightward reduplication. The basic characteristics of each pattern are as follows:

2.1 Full Reduplication.

In full reduplication "the base is maximally disyllabic, and if disyllabic, neither syllable may contain a complex onset (*Complex), and the first syllable is always open (No-Coda)." In other words, (1) full reduplication may apply either to monosyllables or to disyllables, but never to longer bases, (2) it may apply to monosyllables with an initial consonant cluster, but never to longer words in which any syllable has a complex onset, and (3) the reduplicated element invariably omits a consonant coda. In the majority of cases, full reduplications signal repetitive or continuative aspect in the verb and intensity in adjectives. Examples include:

capu ma-capu-capu 'sweep/will sweep and sweep'
puzi ma-puzi-puzi 'white/very white'
tup kan tu-tup 'follow/follow persistently'
canit c-m-ani-canit 'cry/cry often'
dauk shi-dau-dauk 'stop/keep still'
cpiq cpi-cpiq 'thresh/thresh repeatedly'
braq kum-bra-braq 'hole/peck open, as a shell'
fanuz fanu-fanuz 'wake up...


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