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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Repetition of words in the Kurdish language

Today, I want to present a phenomenon of the Kurdish language that I don't know of any other language.

In order to intensify the meaning of a word English uses the word "very", "a lot of" or simply uses a new word for it. Similar, in Kurdish a word can be intensified with the word "zor" (=very), however, in some cases the word itself can be repeated twice to intensify its meaning.

Here are some examples of this repetition

Kurdish English Kurdish Repetition English
rang color rang-aw-rang colorful
dûr far dûr dûr very far
zor very, a lot, much zor zor even more, exceedingly
wurd tiny, little wurd-a-wurd-a slowly
koka cough kok-a-kok a lot of coughing
bola loud complaining bol-a-bol a lot of loud complaining
ming ??? ming-a-ming grumble
qîzh scream qîzh-a-qîzh a lot of screaming
shirr squeak, squeal, scream shirr-a-shirr a lot of squeaking
taqa banging, thud taq-a-taq a lot of banging, noise
tapa stomp (once) tap-a-tap a lot of stomping
dang sound, voice dang-a-dang noise
girm boom, plop girm-a-girm thunder

So, if this word repetition looks familiar to your mother tongue then please let me know and comment.


  1. In Serbian thunder is "grom" and to thunder is "grmeti"

  2. This feature also exists in other languages, certainly in Basque but also in Spanish (a Basque-influenced Romance) and it probably happens in other languages as well.

    Basque uses the particle "oso" for "very", "very much", "a lot" but it is very very common to use adjective repetition to infer the same meaning in maybe emphatic manner: 'arin arina' (fast fast = really fast), 'txiki txikia' (small small = really small), 'bizi bizia' (alive alive = really alive), etc. However it is not used with nouns as many of your examples seem to imply.

    In Spanish it is nearly the same but it seems a more colloquial, less formal, usage. Examples: 'vivo vivo' (alive alive = really alive, vivid vivid = really vivid), 'caliente caliente' (hot hot = really hot), 'verde verde' (green green = really green), etc.

  3. Only example of this in Dutch I can think of right now is 'rap rap/snel snel' (fast fast), which is informal. In this case it takes on the meaning of 'rushing something':

    Hij zei me dat hij zorgvuldig te werk zou gaan, maar ik denk dat hij alles weer rap rap gaat doen.

    He told me he'd go to work carefully, but I think he'll be doing everything 'fast fast' again.

  4. This phenomenon is called "reduplication" and is observed in many unrelated languages (see Wikipedia). In my native Turkish, it is pretty widespread. One study (Ozkan 2010) claims to have identified 3486 double reduplications in written Turkish. Some phrases (e.g. reng a reng) are almost the same in Kurdish but most do not seem to have a common origin.

    1. The Turkish word "rengarenk" is a direct loan from Persian ("rængaræng" in Persian). But it is true that most of the reduplications in Turkish are specific to Turkish.

    2. Thanks for the information. I looked up the wikipedia website for "reduplication".

      Interestingly, the wikipedia site describes Turkish reduplication as...:
      "In Turkish, a word can be reduplicated while replacing the initial consonants (not being m, and possibly missing) with m. The effect is that the meaning of the original word is broadened. For example, tabak means "plate(s)", and tabak mabak then means "plates, dishes and such". This can be applied not only to nouns but to all kinds of words, as in yeşil meşil meaning "green, greenish, whatever". Although not used in formal written Turkish, it is a completely standard and fully accepted construction."

      This sounds pretty much like a Kurdish language phenomenon; replacing the initial consonants with "m" is also very common in Kurdish.

      From the book "A Practical Kurdish Grammar" from Ludvig Olsen Fossum (1919):
      "Another repetition of nouns which is perhaps more vulgar, is to substitute م (m) for the first letter of the repeated noun, if it begins with a consonant, and prefixing م (m), if it begins with a vowel. This kind of repetition denotes 'generalization'. Examples: تـۆز مـۆز (tōz m-ōz) 'dust, and everything of that sort'; قـور مـور (qōr m-ōr) 'mud, and everything of that sort'; وردە موردە (wûrda m-ûrda) 'every little thing'; شـورە مـورە(shûra m-ûra) 'every little useless thing'."

    3. Interesting indeed. The pattern and function of the Kurdish reduplication with "m-" is exactly the same as those of the Turkish reduplication with "m-". I wonder which other languages have this type of reduplication and also its origin and spread.

    4. I think Yiddish has something similar using "Shm" instead of "m", but it is more derogative.
      From Wikipedia:

      "Origins and sociolinguistic distribution

      The construction appears to have originated in Yiddish and was subsequently transferred to English, especially urban northeastern American English, by Yiddish speaking Jews. It is now known and used by many non-Jewish English speakers.[citation needed] The construction also transferred into Modern Hebrew usage, as a productive derogatory prefix resulting in an echoic expressive, as in David Ben-Gurion's famous dismissal of the United Nations (UN), um shmum (UN Shm-UN) during a March 29, 1955 government meeting. "When an Israeli speaker would like to express his impatience with or disdain for philosophy, s/he can say filosófya-shmilosófya".[4]

      Zuckermann (2009) mentions in this context the Turkic initial m-segment conveying a sense of "and so on" as in the Turkish sentence dergi mergi okumuyor, literally "magazine 'shmagazine' read:NEGATIVE:PRESENT:3rd person singular", i.e. "(He) doesn’t read magazines, journals or anything like that".[4]"

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    6. The Yiddish shm-reduplication might have evolved from the same m-reduplication as that of Turkish and Kurdish. For one thing, it may well have acquired its derogative sense recently as a result of the high emphasis put on education and rhetoric in the traditional Jewish culture, which may have triggered the push of more and more of the speech patterns specific to the informal speech into the derogative category. For another, the "sh" phoneme that comes before the "m" phoneme might have been inserted during the formation of the Yiddish language as a result of the High German base of Yiddish (Classical Hebrew and the other traditional Semitic languages lack the initial consonant cluster "shm" while the High German languages have it in abundance). Anyway, just my two cents.

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