According to the website geography.about.com, there are more than 190 countries all over the world. It also means that we have more than 190 cultures. It cannot be denied that language does not role a significant part in communication, but also in learning about one country. That also explain why learning foreign languages, especially popular languages such as English or Chinese, is highly encouraged in lots of countries. Since there are various parts in one language that learners such as grammar, structures, four basic skills…must get through, it is not simple to master one language. Talking about languages in general, English and Vietnamese in particular, vocabulary must win the largest amount. In one language, there are different kinds of vocabulary. For example, learners are taught about compounding (taxi driver, eye brown…), affixation, blending (brunch, motel…) … There is one kind of vocabulary that learners are rarely deeply taught is reduplication which is frequently used in literature and poetry. Each language has its own rule. As an English learner and an English teacher to be, I will draw a brief comparison between English and Vietnamese reduplication, how reduplication is formed and its function in two languages to help non-native English speaker with their reading, especially literature translation.
According to Nguyễn Đình Hòa, the author of “Vietnamese/ Tiếng Việt Không Son Phấn” (1997) “Reduplications are iterative form in which a repeated elements reflects certain phonological characteristics of the base”. For example: “lấp lánh” (sparkling): the first consonant /l/ is repeated, or “tí nị” (tiny): the vowel /i/ is repeated.
In different languages, there will be different types together with different rules to form reduplications. However, in Vietnamese and English, they both have two main types of reduplications: total (full) reduplication and partial reduplication.
Reduplication in Vietnamese:
Total reduplication can be divided into three smaller types
The first type is the one that is completely reduplicated , just opposite about the stress (one in two syllables is more stressed or lengthened ).
For example: chằm chằm (the action of staring), ầm ầm (he sound of the thunder), ba ba ( one kind of turtule), rề rề (the action of doing something slowly). Usually, the second syllable is stressed.
The next one is also the completely reduplicated one. However, there is different in the tones of two word. The tone’s rules of this type of reduplication are: the lower register group (mid-level accent: thanh ngang, grave accent: thanh huyền) will go with the upper register group (acute accent: dấu sắc, hook: dấu hỏi, dot below: dấu nặng, tilde: dấu ngã). The lower registers stand in front of the upper registers.
( The table demonstrates the tones’ rules in reduplications)
Ex: + Đo đỏ (red colour) : mid-level accent / hook
In the alliterative patterns, the initial consonant is duplicated, only the rhyme of the main syllable is changed.
For example: lo lắng (worried), rì rào (sound of the breeze), nhanh nhẹn (nimble)…
As examining the contrast of the rhymes, we also need to pay attention to the contrast between the main vowels. This phenomenon is not the general rule for al situations, but regularly happens with the vowels below:
+ /u/ goes with /i/ : thủ thỉ (whispering), chút chít (the sound of a mouse), mủm mỉm (chubby)
+ /ê/ goes with /a/: tê tái (one kind of feeling), thều thào (speaking in weak voice), thênh thang (very spacious)….
As you can see in the examples above, all of these reduplicative words have the same accent. They often follow these positions.
b. Rhyming patterns:
The name of this pattern also tell us about this type of reduplication. Contrasting with alliterative patterns, rhyming ones have the changes in the initial consonants, while the rhymes of the main syllables are kept the same.
For example: bẽn lẽn (shy), lâm thâm (the sound of the rain), lủi thủi (alone), lẩm cẩm (doting), cheo leo (high and dangerous), hấp tấp (hurried) ….
In this rhyming patterns, nearly half of them begin with the /l/ consonants and there is at least one word in the whole reduplicative words has meaning. However, there are still some situations that both of reduplicative words has no meaning.
For example: thình lình (sudden), bầy hầy (untidy), liểng xiểng (crushing)…
Reduplication in English:
Talking about reduplications in English, they are quite like reduplications in Vietnamese in there forms. In English, we also two main kinds of reduplications: total/ full or exact reduplications and partial reduplication.
As we can see above. There are different names for this kind of reduplication such as total/full/ exact or one of my friends who is Belgian call this type is lexical reduplication.
However, with which name, there is one same form for this type. In this type of reduplication, the entire words are repeated. It is said that this type or reduplication is used much when parents want to help their children speak by using repetitions of words. Since in English, it doesn’t have different accents in its words, the rule of forming total reduplications is not complicated as in Vietnamese.
For example: papa (father), bye bye ( goodbye), night night (goodnight)….
In English, we also have alliteration or ablaut reduplication and rhyming reduplication.
Alliteration (ablaut reduplication): Just like in Vietnamese, there are changes in vowel sounds while the initial consonant is still kept.
For example: tick tock (the sound of the clock), ping pong, hip hop, zigzag…
Rhyming reduplication: There are repetitions of final sound which is the vowel sound carrying stress.
For example: hokey pokey (the name of a children song), super duper, okey dokey...
Other forms of reduplications:
Beside the types mentioned above, in both Vietnamese and English, there are other larger forms of reduplications. Usually, one reduplication has two syllables, but we can sometimes see three or even four-syllable reduplication.
In Vietnamese: Three-syllable reduplications: sạch sành sanh (super clean), cỏn còn con (tiny), khít khìn khịt = sát sàn sạt (really close, tight)…
Four-syllable reduplications: Thủng tha thủng thẳng (take time), rủng ra rủng rỉnh (be clinking with plenty of money), vội vội vàng vàng = hấp ta hấp tấp (hurried)…
In English: The reduplications which have more than two syllables are quite rare in English. We can just find few examples of this kind of reduplication. For example: tic tac toe, pong ping pong..
We can see in both Vietnamese or English, reduplicative words have the onomatopoetic and pictographic abilities, especially Vietnamese. That the reason why reduplications are used a lot in Vietnamese poetry and literature. However, reduplications in English are usually used in speaking to add more sounds to make the conversation more colorful.
This topic was chosen at the beginning because from my point of view, an English teacher to be, I was learnt a lot about different kind of words in English. However, when I catch some reduplications in Vietnamese or in English, I realize that I have rarely studied about this in my English studying. When I read some poems or some literature work which has reduplication, I wonder how could we translate and use the reduplication in the most effective way. If we are just a normal English learner, just use English in daily life, reduplications may not be important in our English studying. However, with translation major learners, especially translation in literature field, this kind of reduplication research can help them a lot in their work. When translator want to translate one Vietnamese work into English, it is not easy to find the exact English reduplications for Vietnamese reduplications. We can only find the right words with the right meanings for these reduplications instead. And by doing some research in this paper, I want the readers have a clearer look about reduplications, both in Vietnamese and in English. By understanding the rules and the types of reduplications in both language, this may be really useful for translators in finding the best words for their translation, especially from Vietnamese into English. Moreover, not only translators but also foreign writers may find it easier to write a new poem or literature work in English or in Vietnamese.
Nguyễn, Đ. H. (1997). Vietnamese-Tiếng Việt Không Son Phấn. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Mai, Ng. Ch, & Vũ, Đ. N, & Hoàng. T. P. (1997). Cơ sở ngôn ngữ học và tiếng Việt. Vi ệt Nam: Educational Publisher.