Reduplication in Game of Thrones

Last night's episode of Game of Thrones was harrowing, to say the least. However, amid all the darkness, I had a moment of levity as a linguist when Meera Reed uses contrastive focus reduplication (sometimes also called lexical cloning or the double construction).


As Meera is packing up her things, she explains to Hodor what's happening: "We can go home now, Hodor. Well, maybe not home home, but somewhere that isn't a cave."

What's Reduplication?

If you're not already familiar with reduplication, here's quick linguistics lesson: in English (and other languages) sometimes words, parts of words, or phrases are repeated to create a novel element of meaning. This element of meaning can range from an added connotation to an entirely different sense. I've written about reduplication for the blog if you'd like to read more about it.

Contrastive focus reduplication occurs when the repeating of the same word or phrase creates a new lexical item. In their 2004 paper on this topic Jila Ghomeshi, Ray Jackendoff, Nicole Rosen, and Keven Russel give the following example: "It's tuna salad, not SALAD-salad."

In this example, the speaker wants to make it clear that they aren't talking about the archetypal salad you might imagine, given no further information; they're specifically talking about tuna salad. The reduplicated "SALAD-salad" represents the model of the typical salad.

Even the Unicode Consortium backs up the concept of the archetypal salad. Sometime in 2016, a salad emoji will roll out, and it will look something like this, according to Emojipedia:


Note the lack of tuna.

Returning to Meera's use of "home home," she is establishing that home has a very specific meaning to her—in this case, it means Greywater Watch, where she grew up. She defines unreduplicated home more broadly, as "somewhere that isn't a cave."

And so, this is why when everyone else was busy weeping, I was thinking, "How many people in Westeros use reduplication?" Additionally I was wondering why the three-eyed raven was such a terrible teacher. He really could have warned Bran more explicitly about interacting with the Night King during vision quests.