I'm wondering whether some german verbs, like, for example:

  • bibbern
  • plappern
  • lallen
  • ...

and as well some similar english verbs of which now only "to giggle" comes to my mind, are indeed relics of (ultimately) indo-european reduplication? Or are these rather onomatopoetic newbies? are there more examples in modern (IE) languages?

  • gigantic comes to my mind although it was borrowed from Latin
    – Anixx
    Apr 21 '14 at 22:34
  • In Russian, pipiska = penis (something used to piss)
    – Anixx
    Apr 21 '14 at 22:36
  • Also in Latin bibit = drunken, parallelled with Russian pivo = beer.
    – Anixx
    Apr 21 '14 at 22:38
  • 3
    PIE reduplication served inflectional functions (e.g. perfect tense), so it's unlikely to have anything to do with these verbs. These all look like classic onomatopoeia.
    – TKR
    Apr 22 '14 at 18:22
  • whereas already in Skt. there are lexicalized roots, which go back to desiderative stems: mokṣ from muc; śikṣ from śak are just two examples. another one is from an intensive stem: daridrā from drā. of course it seems unlikely, that perfect forms become lexicalized, but derived stems - why not? and then there is the third present class in Skt., the present stem of which is formed by reduplication. i guess a stem like this might by the phonetic changes in the transition to Middle Indian become lexicalized as a separate entity, which i don't have an example now. so why not german?
    – zwiebel
    Apr 22 '14 at 18:33

In Icelandic, there are four verbs that are descendants of reduplicating verbs: they're called the "-ri" verbs due to their characteristic past tense suffix that they share with no other verb. These are "snúa" (to turn), "núa" (to rub), "gróa" (to heal) and "róa" (to row). In Old Norse, the verb "sá" (to sow) used to be in this group but Icelandic changed it to a weak verb (its past tense is "sáði" instead of expected "seri").

These four verbs come from Proto-Germanic strong verbs. These verbs are currently (infinitive and first person past):

  • snúa > sneri
  • núa > neri
  • gróa > greri
  • róa > reri
  • ( > *seri)

Of these, the interesting ones are the actual reduplicating ones, "snúa", "róa", "gróa" and "sá". These used to be quite different in Proto-Germanic:

  • snōaną > snúa
  • rōaną > róa
  • grōaną > gróa
  • sēaną > sá

In Proto-Germanic, they formed their past tense by reduplication of the first syllable, with other changes as appropriate of strong verbs:

  • snōaną > *se-snō > seznō
  • rōaną > *re-rō > rerō
  • grōaną > *ge-grō > gegrō
  • sēaną > *se-sō > sezō

Due to Verner's law, the /s/ in those past tenses changed to a /z/, which then merged with /r/ in Icelandic. In "snōaną" and "grōaną" there was an additional metathesis (to "snezō" and "gregō"), and "grōaną" itself analogically probably aligned with "snōaną" to give "grezō". I'm not aware of any other such reduplication in Germanic languages; Icelandic's closest relative, Faroese, has already analogically levelled these reduplicative forms and made these verbs fully weak.

As for "núa" I am not certain what had happened before it became a "-ri" verb. I cannot find etymological information for it in the dictionaries I use, but it might have been "nōaną" that formed its past tense as "nenō". How it became a "-ri" verb is something I don't know but I suspect it underwent the same analogy as "grōaną" did from "gregō" to "grezō" ("nenō" > "nezō").

The Western Germanic "ge-" prefix doesn't have anything to do with reduplication as it comes from Proto-Germanic "ga-" which itself comes from Proto-Indo-European "ḱom" (whence also Slavic "сън" and Persian "ham".) The reason it became a past participle marker is that it became added onto verbs to show the perfective aspect/a completed action, and then was spread out to the past in general. Verbs prefixed with PGmc. "ga-" always took on some suffixes that made them nouns or adjectives.

  • Great answer. Can you give details as to PIE "kom", what was its meaning, a possible Sanskrit offspring? Is it Skt. "sam", indicating a collectivity? That would correspond with the use of German ge- also for (kind of) collective nouns like Gewässer, Gehölz, Gebirge, ...
    – zwiebel
    Apr 24 '14 at 18:21
  • PIE "ḱom" is the ancestor of Proto-Indo-Iranian "sam" which is the ancestor of Persian "ham" (هم) and Sanskrit "sam" (सम्). The meaning of "ḱom" was indeed probably something of a collective marker, as inferred from Latin, Slavic and Indo-Iranian. Proto-Germanic "ga-" also had that collective meaning, now mostly preserved in West (and East) Germanic but otherwise lost in Scandinavian. Edit: not to sound pushy or anything, but if you liked the answer could you at least upvote: I'm itching to be able to give comments to answers and up/downvote ;)
    – Darkgamma
    Apr 25 '14 at 12:14
  • not to sound repulsive, but i don't have the right to, i fear. ;) sry.
    – zwiebel
    Apr 25 '14 at 12:41
  • Oh okay, sorry then. Well, is there anything else you'd want to know :D ?
    – Darkgamma
    Apr 25 '14 at 13:12

The last surviving reduplicating verb in modern German is tun, past tense tat, past participle getan. It is cognate to English do, did, done which also shows traces of reduplication (but this is no longer obvious, because in English -ed is the standard past tense suffix, and did can be reanalysed as d-ed).

German tat clearly shows reduplication, because

  1. tun is a strong verb, as the past participle getan shows
  2. There is no -t ending in the third person singular past tense, compare er ging "he went" or sie lief "she ran".

Even weak verbs dont have a final -t in the 3rd sg. past, see, e.g., er sagte "he said" vs. ihr sagtet "you (pl) said".

  • In a way, yes, tun/do is reduplicative, but in an odd way. The verb itself doesn't survive into Germanic in the present, only as a defective preterite and as the preterite weak suffix (neither Old Norse nor Gothic have a present for this verb), and Don Ringe (2006) says that the entire verb paradigm excluding the preterite was innovated in West Germanic. In this way, the verb's reduplication isn't really a retention, but rather an innovation. It is reduplicated, anyhow.
    – Darkgamma
    Feb 20 '18 at 12:30

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