Friday, September 24, 2010

Contrastive Reduplication

Everyone needs a linguistics lesson from time to time.

At my old job, we used to have certain discussions:

"How's that project going?"

"Pretty good, I guess."

"Well, I need to know: are you done?"

"Uhm, do you mean 'done'? Or do you mean 'done done'? Because I'm pretty close to being done, but it will be a while before I'm done done."

Frankly, it used to drive me crazy. I would try to decipher what these people were saying, and wonder things like: will they at some point talk about being done done done? It was part of the reason I felt somewhat excluded: I literally couldn't speak the language they were speaking.

So here's a great essay, reviewing a recently-published Linguistics paper, that analyzes the phenomenon known as Contrastive Reduplication:

This paper presents a phenomenon of colloquial English that we call Contrastive Reduplication (CR), involving the copying of words and sometimes phrases as in 'It's tuna salad, not SALAD-salad', or 'Do you LIKE-HIM-like him?'

There's also a quite detailed article on Wikipedia, natch.

Oh, and regarding "done" versus "done done", I eventually came to, somewhat, understand what they meant in those discussions:

  • Done: I've completed the design and implementation; it's been reviewed; the code is submitted to SCM and builds on our build system; the internal documentation is submitted to our wiki; the other relevant teams are aware of my work.

  • Done Done: I've finished writing a suite of regression tests. They pass, and are run regularly by our build automation system. Our testing team is satisfied that their testing is complete. Our technical writers have finished the external documentation, and it's been reviewed. The support team has been through internal training on the work and is ready for customers to use it. All known bugs have been logged, and we've fixed the ones we intend to fix for this release, and annotated the others with workarounds and other discussion.

So there actually is a distinction between "done" and "done done", and it can be a useful communications technique.

Once you know what it means.

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