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“A good good example”

No, there are no mistakes in the title. It’s a valid example of an English sentence. Read on to find out why.

Below is a passage from a book by David Crystal called Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, which I liked very, very much.

David Crystal is the world’s expert on the English language and an author of more than 120 books about it. Among other things, he popularises the idea of the World Englishes, meaning that, given the number of non-native speakers, which is 5 times more than that of natives (2 billion versus 400 million), we cannot talk about “one and correct English”. English has acquired “many faces” and that has to be respected. Below is a 10 min video with him talking about that.

What I want to share is an example of how a standard feature of English was “developed” by its varieties. To me it sounds incredibly nice. Here we go.

The extract

[What’s in bold is mine, to focus on the key ideas, what’s in italics is by the author.]

“A good good example

One of the most fascinating grammatical features in many languages is the way a word is repeated to intensify the meaning. The phenomenon is called reduplication.

This happens a lot in standard English. We say that something is very very nice or that it’s a no-no. Sometimes the repetition acts as a kind of exaggeration, as when we describe a costume as pretty-pretty – meaning “excessively pretty”. Sometimes it softens the force, as with bye-bye and night-night, which are more intimate and informal than the simple goodbye and goodnight. […]

One of the most noticeable features of world Englishes is their use of reduplication in ways that go well beyond what we encounter in standard English. In Singapore, you’ll hear people saying that things are small small, meaning “very small”. In Nigeria, if you are well well, you are “very well”. If you look look at someone, you are staring (“looking a lot”).

Indian Pidgin English is an example of a variety that uses reduplication in a remarkable number of ways. The emphatic function is there in They give money very very, which means “a lot of money”. But when we hear This book is fifty fifty year old the repetition conveys a sense of wonder. Someone who greets you with Good good morning is adding a note of intimacy. And if you hear This house has small small room the meaning is not “a very small room” but “several small rooms”. The reduplication expresses plurality. […] And if there were a very large number of rooms, the reduplication could continue: This house has small small small room. It may sound a primitive way of talking, but actually it’s not so different from standard English – something I find very very very interesting.”

(Profile Books paperback edition published in 2017, page 209)

So here you see it, the English linguist’s pure fascination with the way English is used elsewhere. What do you think? I haven’t heard this usage of English in real life yet, but I’d really like to.

Photo by Brett Zeck on Unsplash

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