Talk talk, not just small talk. Exploring English contrastive focus reduplication with the help of corpora

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Contrastive focus reduplication (CR) is a type of reduplication in English which picks out a prototypical or intensified reading of the reduplicated element and shows contrastive stress on the reduplicant: for instance, speakers may use talk talk to indicate that a ‘real talk’ - as opposed to e.g. ‘just small talk’- took place. The present paper pursues an empirical, corpus-linguistic approach to CR: Based on three mega-corpora of contemporary English, the following aspects in particular are investigated: the importance of the co-text of CR, the possibility of emerging default interpretations for some frequent CRs, and the function(s) CR serves in discourse. In addition, it contains the first analysis of the sociolinguistics of the phenomenon, based on a corpus of blogs. It emerges that contrasts and/or synonyms are commonly employed to clarify the meaning of CR - most frequently in the form of the unreduplicated base (not talk, but talk talk) or an explanatory phrase (talk talk, by which I mean a serious conversation). CR is most frequent in blogs maintained by women and by young speakers. Its presence in blogs shows that CR is not limited to (fictional representations of) spoken dialogue. Though generally rare, it is also found in other genres (such as fiction, news, and even academic prose). Apart from its disambiguating function, CR is also used for creative purposes (as a kind of wordplay) and apparently serves to build rapport between interlocutors (or bloggers and readers) via reference to common ground.

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