Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Repetitions which are not repetitions: the non-redundant nature of tautological compounds1


In English morphological literature, the term ‘tautological compound’ has been typically used to refer to two distinct – but closely related – phenomena: (1) compounds composed of a hyponym and a superordinate term (such as oak tree); and/or (2) compounds based upon two synonymous units (such as subject matter). Such combinations are one of the quirkiest – and least researched – phenomena of English compounding. Their oddity can be attributed to two main factors. First, as their name, ‘tautological compound’ implies, at face value such combinations can be considered as prime examples of the redundancy of language. Second, they do not follow normal compound-forming rules in the sense that both constituents can function as the semantic head (as opposed to ‘normal’ English compounds, which follow the Right-Hand Head Rule).

Perhaps it is the quirkiness of tautological compounds that accounts for the fact that not much has been said about them in traditional accounts of compounding, which typically relegate them to a marginal area of the English language. However, there is more to tautological compounds than meets the eye. What the present study wishes to demonstrate is that the term ‘tautological compound’ is a misnomer, as such combinations are far from being tautological or redundant in their meaning. Accordingly, the article first clarifies the notion of tautological compound, and then aims to give an account of the various roles that such combinations play in language, thereby demonstrating their non-tautological and non-redundant nature – in order to assign this much-neglected category to its proper, well-deserved place within English word formation.

Hide All

I am indebted to Kate Burridge for her invaluable comments. I also wish to thank my two anonymous reviewers for their excellent suggestions.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Laurie Bauer . 2008. Dvanda. Word Structure 1, 120.

Laurie Bauer & Antoinette Renouf . 2001. A corpus-based study of compounding in English. Journal of English Linguistics 29 (2), 101–23.

Réka Benczes . 2012. Just a load of hibber-gibber? Making sense of English rhyming compounds. Australian Journal of Linguistics 32 (3), 299326.

Maurice Bloomfield . 1920. Notes on the Divyāvadāna. Journal of the American Oriental Society 40, 336–52.

Eve V Clark . 2009. First language acquisition, 2nd edn.Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lane Cooper . 1904. Pleonastic compounds in Coleridge. Modern Language Notes 19 (7), 223–4.

Steven Darian . 1979. The role of redundancy in language and language teaching. System 7 (1), 4759.

Wolfgang U Dressler . 2005. Word-formation in Natural Morphology. In Pavol Štekauer & Rochelle Lieber (eds.), Handbook of word-formation, 267–84. Dordrecht: Springer.

Oliver Farrar Emerson . 1919. Middle English Clannesse. PMLA 34 (3), 494522.

Susan A. Gelman , Sharon A. Wilcox & Eve V. Clark . 1989. Conceptual and lexical hierarchies in young children. Cognitive Development 4, 309–26.

Nicholas Gessler . 1998. Skeuomorphs and cultural algorithms. In V. W. Porto , N. Saravanan , D. Waagen & A. E. Eiben (eds.), Evolutionary Programming VII: 7th International Conference, EP98 San Diego, California, USA, March 25–27, 1998 Proceedings, 229–38. Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer.

Antonina Harbus . 2003. The situation of wisdom in Solomon and Saturn II. Studia Neophilologica 75 (2), 97103.

Anna Granville Hatcher . 1952. Modern appositional compounds of inanimate reference. American Speech 27 (1), 315.

Luis Iglesias-Rábade . 2011. Collocations in law texts in Late Middle English: Some evidence concerning adverbs ending in -. Studia Neophilologica 83 (1), 5466.

Yakov Malkiel . 1959. Studies in irreversible binomials. Lingua 8, 113–60.

Neal R Norrick . 1988. Binomial meaning in texts. Journal of English Linguistics 21 (1), 7287.

Vincent Renner . 2008. On the semantics of English coordinate compounds. English Studies 89 (5), 606–13.

Eleanor Rosch , Carolyn B. Mervis , Wayne D. Gray , David M. Johnson & Penny Boyes-Braem . 1976. Basic objects in natural categories. Cognitive Psychology 8, 382439.

Bernhard Wälchli . 2005. Co-compounds and natural coordination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

English Language & Linguistics
  • ISSN: 1360-6743
  • EISSN: 1469-4379
  • URL: /core/journals/english-language-and-linguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 1
Total number of PDF views: 31 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 198 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 28th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.