Armenian Language Corner

Double Speak

Spoiler alert: the title of this article does not refer to the perennial use of euphemism, ambiguity, or inversion of meaning so common in political language. It actually makes reference to a very common linguistic phenomenon called “reduplication” (in Armenian կրկնաւորում / gurgnavoroom ).

Reduplication happens when you repeat part or all of a word to express a meaning. You have plenty of examples in English, from “walkie-talkie” to “zig-zag,” which mostly appear in colloquial language and then sometimes go into a more formal expression.

Unlike English, in Armenian you have entire words repeated. For instance:

տեսակ տեսակ պտուղներ (desag-desag budooghner) “variegated fruits”

զանազան մարդիկ (zanazan martig) “different people”

In the first case, you have an adjective repeated and connected with a hyphen. In the second, you have the suffix զան (zan) , meaning “form, way, mode,” loaned from Old Persian. The repeated word has been linked by the very common connective ա (a) .

You can also have two words that have meaning and rhyme with each other (“rhyming reduplication”), like English “super-duper.” However, the Armenian cases are more formal. For instance, the word ախ /akh (interjection of affliction) is combined with the word վախ /vakh “fear” and the result is ախ ու վախ (akh oo vakh) “sigh.”

There are various reduplicated words that are connected by prepositions from Classical Armenian. Such is the case of գոյնզգոյն /kooynuzkooyn “multicolor,” with the word գոյն /kooyn “color” repeated and glued by the connective զ /z , and խառնիխուռն /kharnikhoorn “mixed, confused, pell-mell,” where two words of relatively similar meaning ( խառն /kharn “mixed” and խուռն /khurn “confused”) are put together with the connective ի /i.

You have other cases that remain in the colloquial level and constitute the funny part of it. One of the components usually has no meaning:

  1. a)     The rhyming reduplication that comes from the use of the sound m, either by replacement or addition, as in գաւաթ մաւաթ (kavat-mavat), with kavat meaning “glass, cup,” or արեւ մարեւ (arev-marev), with arev meaning “sun.” (In English, we have the case of shm-reduplication, as in “fancy-shmancy.”)


  1. b)     The emphatic reduplication in nouns, like սեփ սեւ ( sep-sev ), where sep turns sev (“black”), or adjectives, like ճիփ ճիշդ (jeep-jeesht), with jeep underscoring jeesht (“precise, correct”).

These last cases have their parallel utilization in Turkish and should be regarded as part of the long coexistence of both languages in the Ottoman period.