The reduplication of words (jōgo 畳語) is a phenomenon found in Japanese in which the same morpheme (unit of meaning) is doubled to create a new yet related word. This is seen virtually across all parts of speech in Japanese to varying degrees. Before you think this is only limited to some form of slang, it must be noted that most words created by doubling something are actually quite important.
When a noun is doubled, the resultant phrase is a plural phrase denoting a large variety of said noun. Essentially, only nouns that have been conceptualized by the Japanese as something that is both numerous and highly varied may be pluralized in this way.
As simple as this may seem, it is important to note that only a handful of these phrases are frequently used, and it isn’t even the case that all related words of a particular variety can be pluralized in this way. For instance, although yamayama 山々 is used, kawagawa川々 (rivers) hardly ever is except in very specific circumstances, and okaoka 岡々 (hills) is basically unheard of.
One thing to take especial note regarding doubling nouns is that a phonological phenomenon called rendaku 連濁 affects the pronunciation of the repeated element. Rendaku 連濁 is when the second part of a compound has its initial consonant voiced if it isn’t already.
As far as spelling is concerned, rather than repeating the same character, the ditto character 々 is used instead. However, when a word of more than one character is repeated, the whole word is usually repeated instead of using the ditto mark.
Shift after shift
Unfortunately, instances of these phrases must be learned on a case by case basis, and because these phrases are so closely intertwined into the very conceptualization of core vocabulary, a good handful of the phrases that do exist have quirks that must also be addressed. For starters, we will look at the most common, straightforward instances of noun duplication.
Sanjukkakoku ijō no hitobito ni iken wo chōsa shimashita.
(I/we) have investigated the opinions of (many) people from over thirty nations.
Nihon no yamayama wo tanoshimimashō.
Enjoy the many mountains of Japan.
Afurika no kuniguni made mo ga chūgoku ni ison shite iru.
As far as the nations of Africa are dependent on China.
Reading Note: 依存 may alternatively be pronounced as izon.
Kodai no girishajin wa, zeusu wo hajime, ōku no kamigami wo agamete ita to iwarete iru.
It is said that the ancient Greeks, not only worshiped Zeus, but they also worshiped many other gods.
Kōdai na uchū ni chirabaru, kazoekirenai hodo no hoshiboshi e tabidachimashō.
Let’s embark on exploring the countless stars scattered in our grand universe.
Koko sūjitsu, kōtaigōtai de yasumi naku sagyō wo tsuzukete imashita.
For these past few day, I have been doing work without break shift after shift.
Minami Taiheiyō no shimajima ni ryokō shite mitai to omoimasu.
I’d like to travel the many islands of the South Pacific.
Wareware wa doko kara kita no ka, wareware wa nanimono ka, wareware wa doko e iku no ka.
Where did we come from, what are we, and where are we going?
Ashi wo hakonde kudasatta katagata, makoto ni arigatō gozaimashita.
To all those who turned out, (I/we) sincerely thank you.
Toruko kakuchi no machimachi wo tazunemashita.
I visited the many towns across Turkey.
Kankikō ga tokorodokoro ni setchi sarete iru.
Vents are installed here and there.
Gairoju no kigi ga irozuite kirei desu ne.
The many roadside trees have turned colors and are lovely.
Sekai no sumizumi made kamotsu wo hakobu.
To transport cargo to the corners of the world.
Ichinen wo tōshite kisetsu no hanabana wo saibai shite imasu.
(I/we) cultivate the various flowers of the seasons throughout the year.
Karera wa mina sorezore no iken wo motte imasu.
They all each have their own opinions.
Gakusei ono’ono ga tanoshiminagara Nihongo no kaiwaryoku wo takamete iru.
Each and every student is increasing their conversation skills in Japanese while having fun.
Word Note: Ono actually comes from an old word meaning “oneself” which is still seen in the word onore 己, which is either used to mean “oneself/itself” or as a derogatory “you,” of all things.
Meimei ga bento wo jisan shite kudasai.
May each please bring his own bento.
Word Note: Ono’ono 各々 and meimei 銘々 are both very similar to sorezore それぞれ. Neither, unlike sorezore それぞれ are particularly used in the spoken language anymore, but they both only refer to people.
Aidoru gurūpu no marumaru no memmen jūshō!
Each one of the pop group ## severely injured!
Word Note: Memmen 面々 is yet another word meaning “each one.” It is occasionally used in the written language; however, it is not suited for polite/honorific speech as the tone it gives is rather indifferent at a respectful level. It also literal means "every direction," but this meaning is obsolete and would be replaced with phrases like kaku hōmen 各方面.
Tezukuri no shinajina ga sorotte iru.
Various handmade goods are lined up.
Kaze de fushibushi ga itamu no wa naze desho ka?
Why do all one’s joints ache with a cold?
Tade ku mushi mo sukizuki.
Some prefer nettles/every man has his taste.
Phrase Note: This is a set expression which literally means, “There is also a matter of taste even for bugs that eat knotweed.”
Tsugi wa daredare desu.
Next is so-and-so.
Word Note: In addition to meaning "so-and-so," this word traditionally has also been used to mean “who” but in the sense of two or more people. This usage, however, has waned and hardly anyone uses it this way anymore.
As you can see, all the examples thus far utilize simple yet fundamental nouns in the language. The examples to follow are also very simple and important nouns, but their duplicated forms are either not as common or have something odd about them.
Hiniku na koto ni, Gumma-ken no muramura ni wa, shirokujichū muramura shite iru sommin ga ōi rashii.
Ironically, it seems that there are many villagers that are horny around the clock in the villages of Gunma Prefecture.
Word Note: Muramura 村々 would only be used in the written language because it is homophonous with the very common onomatopoeic expression muramura suruムラムラする, which means “to be horny.” Onomatopoeic expressions, as demonstrated with this mere example, also frequently exhibit duplication.
Chōchō ga mushi na noni kirawarenai no wa naze deshō ka?
Why is it that butterflies aren’t hated although they’re bugs?
Word Note: Chōchō 蝶々 should just mean “(many) butterflies,” but it has ironically become detached from its literal meanings and can also just mean “butterfly.”
Itta koto no nai teradera ni sampai ni dekakeru.
To go out to pay homage to the many temples one has never gone to.
Give me your hand(s)/paw(s).
Word Note: Otete お手手 is a euphemism for “hand(s)/paw(s)” that is used towards children and pets.
The following examples are indicative of when noun duplication would normally not be permissible; however, it is noteworthy that a far larger diversity of nouns can be duplicated in specialized contexts like those seen below.
Yuki ga kita. Tanitani wa sangatsu no yo mo fukaku umoreta.
The snow came. The valleys were deeply buried in it past March.
From 岩石の間 by 島崎藤村.
Watakushi wa hoka no ana wo chūi shite mita. Soshite sorera no ana’ana ga, itsu no ma ni ka tsugitsugi ni nurikatamerarete itte iru no wo mita.
I looked cautiously at the other holes, and then I watched as one after another of those holes coated over before I knew it.
From ジガ蜂 by 島木健作.
Word Note: Tsugitsugi 次々 is an adverbial phrase meaning “one by one/one after another” by duplicating the noun tsugi 次 meaning “next.”
Watashi wo shinjiru mono wa, seisho ga itte iru yō ni, sono hito kara ikeru mizu no kawagawa ga deru de arō.
Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from him.
From John 7:38
Temporal Nouns: Nominal & Adverbial
Although we are focusing on instances of noun duplication, it is important to note that the majority of nouns that are temporal are often used as both nouns and adverbs, and this is no different when they’re duplicated.
Shiawase na hibi wo sugosu.
To live out happy days.
Tembōdai kara shiki oriori no utsukishisa wo tan’nō dekimasu.
You can enjoy the beauty of the seasons from season to season from the observation deck.
Shika mo oriori mikakeru ga, kamoshika wa mezurashii.
Although I occasionally spot deer as well, wild goats are rare.
Tokidoki, konro no hi ga tsukanai.
Sometimes, the gas burner doesn’t light.
Atamakin zero de tsukizuki samman’en-dai no shiharai de kōnyū dekimasu.
You can purchase with monthly payments in the 30,000 yen range with zero down payment.
Nen’nen, juyō ga zōka shite iru.
Demand is increasing yearly.
Kyōdō de katta tochi wo utta okane wo hanhan ni waketa koto wo nochinochi momenai yō ni shomen ni nokoshitai to omotte imasu.
I would like to leave in writing that the money from selling land I hand jointly bought (with someone) was split in half so that we don’t have a dispute in the distant future.
Sono machi no hitotachi wa senzo daidai uketsugarete kita hōgen wo mizukara hōmurisatta no da.
The people of that town had buried their dialect, which had been passed down from the ancestors generation to generation, on their own.
Word Note: 代々 may also be read as “yoyo” in far more literary fashion, utilizing the native word for “generation.”
Maemae kara shuchō shite iru yō ni akiraka ni machigatte iru n desu.
Just as I have asserted from way before, it’s clearly mistaken/wrong.
Sakizaki no koto wo kangaeru to fuan ni narimasu.
Whenever I think about what will be way down the line, I get anxious.