Ikea’s “Bookbook,” Soy Milk vs. Milk-Milk, and Like-Liking. What’s Going On?


I’m on Lexicon Valley using the viral Ikea “bookbook” ad as an excuse to talk about contrastive focus reduplication. 

Once you’ve heard of contrastive focus reduplication, you’ll notice it EVERYWHERE: in gifs from Community Channel, among family members, and even in this adorable gay cowboys cartoon. (Edit: also in the Timbuktu episode of Cabin Pressure.)

The original Salad-Salad paper is really quite accessible, and contains even more highly entertaining examples. 

Yeah, this is pretty rad! I’m fascinated by ongoing linguistic processes like this. I’ve also been thinking a lot about Common Ground lately, i.e. the stuff we all know that ends up being a tacit part of our communication (and why some twins or people who hang out together constantly sometimes seem to be speaking ‘their own language’: they just have so much Common Ground that most of their conversation can remain unsaid). I think Common Ground is pretty much necessary for this contrastive focus reduplication to really work. Like, you need to know that “like” can be used to mean both having a positive outlook towards a person and wanting to smooch them a bunch, for “Do you like him, or do you LIKE-like him?” to work.

And that’s even more true, I think, for some of the other examples in the excellent paper linked to in the post above. Like the person who said, “Oh, that’s BEACON-STREET-Beacon-Street!” (omg) when realizing the famous Beacon Street in Boston was the same Beacon Street in West Newton. Like, saying “oh that’s beacon street beacon street” makes no sense unless both the speaker and the listener are aware of the Beacon Street in Boston. For example, I had never heard of Beacon Street in Boston, so this sentence was initially incomprehensible to me. Bam, common ground.

What I’m wondering now is, where is this going to go? Will it become a more productive and pervasive part of English? it seems to be heading that way, which I think is super neat and interesting. Living languages! Another question is, are some of these reduplicated forms going to end up lexicalized into standalone words? A lot of other languages have tons of reduplicated forms (they tumble out of every crevice in Japanese, for example, even though I’m not sure Japanese uses reduplication for contrastive focus like this!).

The only lexicalized reduplicated word in English that I can think of that might already follow this pattern is ‘no-no’, as in, ‘picking your nose in public is a big no-no’. Do you think no-no means “really very no, in a way that we will probably all agree on”? Or am I off track here?

Ikea’s “Bookbook,” Soy Milk vs. Milk-Milk, and Like-Liking. What’s Going On?

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