Finnish for busy people

Ruokaruoka Pikapikaa – Double Words – Reduplication

Reduplication (ruokaruoka pikapikaa) is a phenomenon that happens in quite many languages. In English, for example, we have choo-choo, night-night and bye-bye. The function of reduplication is different in different languages. There are language, for example, that express plurality by repeating a word twice. In English (tree : trees) and Finnish (puu : puut) you do this with a suffix. You can read more about reduplication in different languages on the Wikipedia page.

Finnish uses redupliation for many different purposes. There are many different phrase constructions that have reduplication in them (like in English e.g. more and more, day after day). In this article, we’re only looking at nouns.

1. Spoken language reduplication

The following words are used mainly in spoken language.

1.1. Reduplication in children’s language

Children’s language is riddled with examples of reduplication. This is due to the fact that small children aren’t able to pronounce words of several syllables unless there is repetition. The list below contains many of the sounds animals make, such as hau-hau which is used to mimic a dog barking.

  • Pipi “boo-boo, owie” is a word little children use instead of kipeä “pain” or sairas “sick”. A small child could for example say “Äiti on pipi.” – “Mom is sick”.
  • Pusi-pusi “kiss-kiss” is used in spoken language either when talking to small children about giving a kiss or jokingly with adults.
  • Kis-kis is used to try to draw the attention of a cat.
  • Tseh-tseh is used to try to draw the attention of a dog.
  • Kot-kot “cluck cluck” mimics the sound a chicken makes.
  • Hau-hau “bark bark” mimics the sound a dog makes.
  • Nöf-nöf “oink oink” mimics the sound a piglet makes.
  • Röh-röh mimics the sound a pig makes.
  • Kuti kuti is what usually is said while tickling someone. It comes from the verb kutittaa which means “to tickle”.
  • Nam nam “yum yum” is what you say to express that something is yummy.

1.2. Other cases of repeating words in spoken language

  • Hei hei and moi moi “bye bye” are obviously also examples of reduplication. These are interesting in Finnish because when you’re not repeating the word twice, you’re saying “hello” instead of “goodbye”.
  • Höpö höpö is usually used as a exclamation that expresses that something is nonsense. For example:”Mä en osaa mitään” – “Höpö höpö! Osaathan kaikenlaista.” means “I don’t know how to do anything” – “Nonsense! You know how to do all kinds of things.” (If used as an adjective rather than an exclamation, it’s usually spelled höpönhöpö, as for example in the phrase “Horoskoopit ovat höpönhöpöä.” “Horoscopes are nonsense”).
  • Heko-heko “haha” is something you can say something when someone says something really stupid that’s supposed to be funny but really isn’t. It comes from the verb hekottaa.
  • Vitsi, vitsi “joke joke” is used to appease someone after you’ve said, for example, something slightly insulting. Equivalent to “just kidding”.
  • Noh, noh “now now” is used as a gentle reproach (“Noh noh, älä ole ilkeä.” = “Now now, don’t be rude.”) or reassurance (“Noh noh, ei hätää.” = “Now now, don’t worry.”)
  • Soo-soo “now now” is also a gentle reprimand or warning (“Soo-soo tytöt, ei saa kiroilla” = “Now now girls, no swearing”).
  • Joo joo and juu juu “yeah yeah” can carry many meanings, but most commonly they express a mild annoyance with a question someone keeps repeating “Tulethan ajoissa – Joo joo” (Make sure you come on time – Yeah yeah).
  • Voi voi can be used to express compassion or empathy “Voi voi Liisa parka” (Oh no, poor Liisa). Sometimes – especially in a sighing kind of voice – it also means gentle exhasperation “Voi voi teitä poikia, taasko?” (Sigh you guys, again?).
  • Tota tota “uhm” is used in conversations to give the speaker a break while they try to think what to say. It can also appear just once for the same meaning “Se taitaa olla tota Eemelin lelu” (It might be uhm Eemeli’s toy).
  • Huhhuh “phew” often expresses relief or amazement “Huhhuh, mikä maali!” (Wow, what a goal!) though it can also be used to express that one is tired or feeling hot “Huhhuh, hellettä” (Phew, it’s so hot).
  • Hus-hus “shoo” can be used, for example, to urge kids to go play outside “Hus-hus, kaikki pihalle leikkimään!” or to shoo an animal “Hus hus, pois kärpänen!
  • Hopi hopi “chop chop” is used to try to make someone hurry up.
  • Kop kop “knock knock” comes from the verb koputtaa “to knock” and represents the sound of knocking on something.
  • Ysiysi “nine nine” is mainly used in spoken language to say prices. For example, 2,99 € is “kaks ysiysi” in spoken Finnish. This is preferable over yhdeksänkymmentäyhdeksän (nintety-nine).
  • Tööt-tööt can be used to express that someone is super drunk (“Kato, toi tyyppi on ihan tööt-tööt.” = “Look, that guy is super drunk”).

2. Reduplication used to specify

In this part of the article, we will talk about words like ruokaruoka, which specify the meaning of the base word. They express that we’re dealing with the item in its most basic meaning.

It’s important to know that these words are mostly temporary words, used in a specific situation but not really established as words enough to make it to the dictionary!

  • Kotikoti “homehome” is a word you might use when trying to specify that you don’t mean your temporary student housing situation but rather your “real home” with your parents.
  • Ruokaruoka “foodfood” can be used to specify that you made a “real meal” instead of just eating fastfood or other unhealthy options.
  • Lomaloma “vacationvacation” is a “real vacation” where you don’t have to worry about anything at all, just vacation without a care in the world, usually a vacation away from home.
  • Kirjakirja “bookbook” can be used to express that a book made out of paper, in contrast with an e-book.
  • Työtyö “workwork” can be used to differentiate between work that’s done at the workplace and work done at home as a stay-at-home mother. It can also be contrasted with a summer job, for example.
  • Lasilasi “glass glass” is a glass made from actual glass rather than plastic.
  • Lihaliha “meatmeat” is a word I haven’t come across yet, but which sounds very plausible in this world where meat is being replaced with meatfree substitutes.
  • Kaverikaveri “friendfriend” is a “real friend”, not just a friend in school or at work.
  • Syödäsyödä “eatingeating” can be used to talk about eating proper solid food in contrast with eating mainly smoothies and soups during a liquid diet.
  • Lukealukea “readingreading” is what you do when you “properly read” rather than leafing through a book or reading a bit here and there.

3. Reduplication used to enhance

Reduplication can also be used to enhance the meaning of the base word. This is especially common with adjectives. More often than not, the first iteration of the adjective will appear in the genitive case, and the repeated words are usually not a compound word.

  • Pikapikaa “fastfast” means “right away, quickly” as in Syön aamiaiseni pikapikaa. “I eat my breakfast real quick.” This word is pretty old and can be found in dictionaries.
  • Pienen pieni “small’s small” can refer, for example, to a prematurely born baby, pienen pieni vauva. In English, you’d use “tiny” or “teeny-weeny”.
  • You can also use pikku pikku for “tiny” in Finnish, but this very much reminds of this song.
  • Ohuen ohut “thin’s thin” can refer to “ultra-thin” slices of ham for example or a super thin pizza bottom.
  • Uuden uusi “new’s new” could also be called upouusi, and can, for example, refer to buying a “brand new” car.
  • Lyhyen lyhyt “short’s short” could refer to a really short phone call, video or dress.

There is more to reduplication than what’s been listed in this article. There are, for example, all kinds of word chains where the word is repeated, but in a different case (e.g. askel askeleelta, enemmän ja enemmän, mies kuin mies). Those will be the topic of a future article.

Read more elsewhere online:

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