Attenuation by reduplication in Hausa and beyond

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Georg Ziegelmeyer


A first examination of patterns expressing attenuated qualities in Hausa and some other mainly West Chadic languages reveals that reduplication is the most wide-spread morphological process to reduce the degree of a quality. For instance, in Hausa full reduplication and shortening of the final vowel on each component derives denominal “X-like”-expressions, or “X-y” and “X-ish” adjectives, i.e. concrete nouns may form adjectives with the meaning “characterized by”, sometimes retaining nominal status with an attenuated meaning, e.g. gishirī ‘salt’ > gishiri-gishiri ‘salty’, but barcī ‘sleep(ing)’ > barci-barci ‘a nap’. In a similar manner abstract nouns of sensory quality (ANSQs) allow reduplicated forms, with a detensified “X-ish” meaning, e.g. zāƙī ‘sweetness’ > zāƙi-zāƙi ‘sweetishness’ (lḕmō mài zāƙi-zāƙi ‘a sweetish soft drink’). According to SCHUH, GOGE and DOLE (n.d.) Ngamo employs partial reduplication to expresses the concept “NOUN-like”, “NOUN-ish”. Apart from this, some other Chadic languages allow reduplication of simple or derived adjectives, usually denoting colours or physical attributes, in order to get a detensified/attenuated meaning of a quality, e.g. Hausa: bàbba ‘big’ > bàbba-bàbba ‘biggish’ (cf. JAGGAR 2001); Bade: ɓuwâ ‘red’ > ɓuwâ-ɓuwâ ‘reddish’ (cf. ZIEGELMEYER 2015); Bole: dài ‘red’ > dài-dài ‘reddish’ (cf. GIMBA and SCHUH Ms.); Malgwa: dzáyye ‘white’ > dzáy-dzáyye ‘whitish’ (cf. LÖHR 2002). Our survey of something like 45 Chadic languages from all branches reveals that if we find information on attenuation processes, then either full or partial reduplication is involved.

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Research articles
Author Biography

Georg Ziegelmeyer, University of Vienna

Georg Ziegelmeyer holds a PhD (African Studies) from University of Vienna, where he is currently Senior Lecturer teaching African Linguistics and Hausa. From a geographical perspective, he is mainly interested in West Africa, i.e. languages such as Hausa and other Chadic languages (especially Bade), Kanuri and its related Saharan languages, as well as Atlantic languages such as Fulfulde and Wolof. From a thematic point of view, he is particularly concerned with contact linguistics, language typology, as well as language description and documentation. His research in recent years has focused in particular on various language contact situations in the wider Lake Chad region.