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Lesson Transcript


Michael: What is word reduplication in Vietnamese?
Nguyet: And what is its function?
Michael: At VietnamesePod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following scenario: Gabriel Garcia hears a new phrase. He asks his college friend, Nguyet Ngo,
"What does "xanh xanh" mean?"
Gabriel Garcia: "Xanh xanh" có nghĩa là gì?
Gabriel Garcia: "Xanh xanh" có nghĩa là gì?
Nguyệt Ngô: Nó có nghĩa là "xanh da trời nhạt."
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Gabriel Garcia: "Xanh xanh" có nghĩa là gì?
Michael: "What does "xanh xanh" mean?"
Nguyệt Ngô: Nó có nghĩa là "xanh nhạt."
Michael: "It means "bluish.""

Lesson focus

Michael: Reduplication is defined as the repetition of a syllable, a morpheme, or a word as a means of creating a new word. It exists in almost all languages, especially in Vietnamese. In English, reduplication rarely occurs, and it is primarily used in words that reflect noises or sounds, such as "tick tock" and "click clack." On the other hand, reduplication is found abundantly in Vietnamese, and compared to English reduplication, Vietnamese reduplication, or
Nguyet: từ láy
Michael: has multiple functions.
Michael: In Vietnamese, reduplicative words can be divided into three groups. This is based on the number of syllables, or
Nguyet: âm tiết
Michael: First, there's the two-syllable or bi-syllabic reduplicative words, such as
Nguyet: xinh xinh
Michael: or "cute," and
Nguyet: mạnh mẽ
Michael: or "strong." And then there's the three-syllable or tri-syllabic reduplicative words, such as
Nguyet: khít khìn khịt
Michael: or "snugly," and
Nguyet: sạch sành sanh
Michael: which means "sparkly clean." Finally, there's the four-syllable reduplicative words, such as
Nguyet: trùng trùng điệp điệp
Michael: meaning, "stretch/extend endlessly" as in the context of mountains stretching endlessly. Among these three, the first group is the most important group since 98% of Vietnamese reduplicative words are bi-syllabic. There are two types of reduplication in this group, the first one being full reduplication, which can be divided into three subclasses. The first subclass includes full reduplicative words with alternate stress. These words contain two identical elements with one being pronounced in a longer or stronger way. One example is the word
Nguyet: khăng khăng
Michael: meaning "persistently." The second subclass includes reduplicative words with an alternate tone, such as
Nguyet: vành vạnh
Michael: which means "perfectly round," as in
Nguyet: Đêm nay trăng tròn vành vạnh
Michael: meaning "The moon is perfectly round tonight."
And, lastly, there's the subclass that includes reduplicative words with alternate final consonants, such as
Nguyet: ăm ắp
Michael: which means "abundantly full," and
Nguyet: chiêm chiếp
Michael: which describes the chirping sound of a baby chick. Now, for the second type of Vietnamese reduplication, we have partial reduplication. This includes reduplicative words in which either the initial rhyme or consonant is repeated. This type has two subclasses, with the first subclass including words with alternate rhymes, such as
Nguyet: đẹp đẽ
Michael: or "nice." We also have the word
Nguyet: bồng bềnh
Michael: which means "floating." The second subclass includes rhyming words with alternate initial consonants, such as
Nguyet: càu nhàu
Michael: or "grumble." Another example is the word
Nguyet: hấp tấp
Michael: which means "hastily."
[Recall 1]
Michael: This time, let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Gabriel Garcia says "What does "xanh xanh" mean?"
Nguyet as Gabriel Garcia: "Xanh xanh" có nghĩa là gì?
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now, let's take a look at our second sentence.
Do you remember how Nguyet Ngo says "It means "bluish?""
Nguyet as Nguyet Ngo: Nó có nghĩa là "xanh nhạt."
Michael: This is an example of a full reduplication. The rule in Vietnamese reduplication is that, when the repeated word is an adjective, the implication is a lesser degree of quality of what the word is describing. Thus, the reduplication of the word "blue" refers to something that is only slightly blue or "bluish." Keep in mind that the words "blue" and "green" are both denoted by the word
Nguyet: xanh
Michael: which means our example could also mean "greenish." Both colors are usually distinguished by adding additional explanation. For instance, the phrase
Nguyet: xanh da trời
Michael: literally means "sky blue" but is used to give
Nguyet: xanh
Michael: the nuance of blue. If you want to point out that something is green, you can say,
Nguyet: xanh lá cây
Michael: which literally means "leaf green."
Michael: In this lesson, you learned that reduplication, or
Nguyet: từ láy
Michael: is the repetition of a syllable, a morpheme, or a word as a means of creating a new word. You also learned that reduplicative words are a huge part of the Vietnamese language and may fall into several types and subclasses.
Michael: In our dialogue, we mentioned that, when the repeated word is an adjective, the implication is a lesser degree of quality. This is one of the rules of reduplication in Vietnamese. For instance, we have the reduplication
Nguyet: xinh xinh
Michael: The word repeated here is the Vietnamese for "beautiful" or "pretty." This word is an adjective, so, when reduplicated, the resulting word implies a lesser degree of the quality described by the word "beautiful." Thus, this reduplication would mean "kind of pretty," or "somewhat beautiful." Now, if the word being reduplicated is a verb, the reduplication will indicate movement. For example, if we reduplicate the word "nod," or
Nguyet: gật đầu
Michael: we get
Nguyet: gật gật đầu
Michael: which refers to a repetitive nodding motion. For some words, reduplication is used to indicate multiple instances or recurrence, such as in the word
Nguyet: ngày ngày
Michael: which literally means "day day," and implies all days or many days.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: Reduplicative words, or
Nguyet: từ láy,
Michael: exist in the Vietnamese language in considerable numbers. They are used in so many different fields, particularly in daily conversations. They are also found in many folk songs, idioms, poems, and are even used in formal speeches.
Michael: Studying Vietnamese reduplication can be quite confusing at first, considering that not all Vietnamese words have a direct translation in English. Take these reduplicative words, for instance:
Nguyet: êm êm
Michael: This means "smooth and quiet" and
Nguyet: êm ấm
Michael: means "cozy." Finally,
Nguyet: êm đềm
Michael: means "tranquility." In Vietnamese, these words refer to a state of being, such as feelings of coziness or zen and serenity. When translated to English, they become words that refer to a feeling someone may have about an object, such as when you say that something is smooth or soft. This is because Vietnamese reduplicative words often reflect a value of expression, and, for most of the words, the meanings go beyond that of the root word. For this reason, it's important to study Vietnamese reduplicative words in conjunction with their root words and not as separate words.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Nguyet: Tạm biệt!
Michael: See you soon!

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