English summary on the doctoral dissertation

Vackert, vackert! Syntaktisk reduplikation i svenskan

Beautiful, beautiful! Syntactic reduplication in Swedish

By Jan Lindström

The study belongs to the field of the university subject Scandinavian languages.

The subject matter of the study are reduplicative constructions in Swedish which more properly form a part of a clause than a lexical unit. In practise, the object of investigation is immediate and deliberate word repetition in speech and writing. This kind of repetition may occur, for example, with two (or more) juxtaposed prenominal adjectives, like in små små barn 'little little children'. In addition, the repetition may form a unit by coordination, like in Han går och går 'He walks and walks'.

Reduplication of the illustrated type has not gained much attention in linguistic research. Repetition is, however, more often mentioned in works in stylistics although treated from a specific rhetorical perspective. Syntactic reduplication may yet be observed in everyday language, and this will necessiate a linguistic inquiry of the phenomenon. Moreover, the subject is of general theoretical interest, since reduplication is regarded as one of linguistic universals and icons.

The data for the present investigation consist of a computer corpus of three million words, including texts from newspapers, fiction (literary prose), and conversations. The quantitative analysis points to that syntactic reduplication is not a very high frequent phenomenon in Swedish. Yet, fiction and conversations show some kind of regular, even though generally infrequent, occurence of reduplication. The examples of the construction that may sporadically be found in newspapers come from genres that have stylistic links to literary prose or colloquial language: causerie (chatty articles) or sports reports.

Thus, the distribution of reduplication in the investigated media suggests that these constructions have a pragmatic rather than a direct semantic motivation. Reduplication communicates most often the speaker's emotional stance towards the subject matter. When one says små små barn there is no claim about extreme smallness, but rather the speaker expresses his or hers feelings about 'little children'; this can, of course, relate to a cute, moving kind of smallness. In other words, this repetition has typical diminutive connotations, not seldom universally expressed with a reduplicative construction. Again, a reduplication like Han går och går focusses more on an indolent kind of irresultativity than the progressive aspect, which as such is a part of non-completed events. Hence, we may conclude that syntactic reduplication is a pragmatically specialized device in Swedish, and the specialization may in turn explain why these expressions are not in a very frequent use in language.

From a more general point of view, Swedish syntactic reduplication constitutes an isomorphic continuum as regards the form and function of the constructions and their subtypes. There is, of course, formal similarity: both juxtaposed and coordinated reduplications augment the form of the message; thus, they also augment the content, especially the emotional stance. The is also dissimilarity: juxtaposed and coordinated reduplications are in most cases in a complementary distribution. For example, positive forms of adjectives cannot be coordinated (*små och små barn 'little and little children') whereas this is strongly preferred with the comparative (mindre och mindre skillnader 'smaller and smaller differences'). The reason for this is that coordination of identical constituents is possible only if there is some kind of asymmetry, temporal, local or referential. The positive makes no sense in asymmetric contexts of this kind and hence coordination is not applicable. The difference in form reflects thus a clear-cut functional difference. This symbiosis between the structure and meaning of the constructions may then be attributed to the theory of isomorphic iconicity in the language system: Formal similarities reflect functional similarities, anb, vice versa, formal dissimilarities reflect functional dissimilarities. Ultimately, this has a link to the Saussurian concept of relative motivation: the mind introduces an order into certain parts of the mass of signs. In other words, Swedish syntactic reduplication also delimits the arbitrariness of the sign from the more abstract system point of view.