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Russian Constructions with Syntactic Reduplication of Colour Terms: a Corpus Study

Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018. Vol. 22. No. 3. P. 653-674.

Russian reduplicated constructions with colour terms have never previously been an object of a comprehensive
corpus study. Nevertheless, they present considerable interest for a researcher because comparative
ability of colour terms to be reduplicated reflects their semantic and pragmatic differences, whereas semantics
and pragmatics of reduplication construction are revealed in the properties of colour terms that can fill its
slots. Thus, the goal of the paper is to study semantic and pragmatic properties of Russian colour terms and
Russian syntactic reduplication construction by analyzing their co-occurrence. We apply corpus methods
to the data from the Russian National Corpus, RuTenTen Corpus on Sketch Engine and RuSkell corpus.
We analyze absolute corpus frequencies and collocation patterns of Russian non-reduplicated colour
terms, as well as their relative frequencies and collocation patterns in the construction of syntactic reduplication
with a hyphen (belyj-belyj ‘white-white, very white, spotlessly white’). Drawing on this data, we
establish that absolute frequencies of non-reduplicated colour terms in Russian reflect both Anna
Wierzbicka’s “universals of visual semantics”, as well as certain language and culture-specific tendencies,
as evidenced by the prominence of goluboj ‘light blue’ and ryzhij ‘carroty-red’ in Russian. We also argue
that the Russian reduplication construction with a hyphen (belyj-belyj ‘white-white) is semantically and
prosodically different from the construction of repetition with a comma (milyj, milyj ‘dear, dear’). The
former has the meaning of high degree, and thus attracts only gradable colour terms, such as belyj ‘white’,
chernyj ‘black’, sinij ‘medium to dark blue’, and other basic colour terms. There are additional factors
that influence colour term reduplication. Collocation patterns suggest that colour terms that co-occur
with the names of culturally and cognitively salient objects, such as denotations of human appearance
(face, hands, skin, eyes, hair) or landscape features (sea, sky, fire, grass) are more likely to be reduplicated.
Moreover, aesthetic or emotional evaluation of such objects (‘blue-blue eyes’, ‘green-green grass’)
is also a factor that is conducive to their occurrence in the construction of reduplication. Our findings
establish the importance of corpus methods in the study of colour terms and reduplication, demonstrate
that the use and interpretation of lexical and syntactic items hinges both on semantic and pragmatic factors,
and add to the understanding of semantics and pragmatics of Russian colour terms and reduplication
Keywords: reduplication, construction, collocation, colour term, gradable