haplology

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere (An Appreciation of English: A language in motion), language changes, constantly, and there are two main reasons people change language (deliberately or accidentally): to make their lives easier, and to make themselves feel better. In-group inventions, which give a sense of superiority and belonging, are a good example of the latter group, and include slang and technical jargon. The various reductions and weatherings that speech undergoes make up an important part of the former, and among these is haplology.

Haplology is a sort of reduction – syncopation, in fact – that might be made by some hapless guy provoking “LOL,” or it might be done deliberately with no apology. It’s simply removing one of two sequential identical or similar sounds or syllables. For instance, if haplology were to become haplogy, it would have been subject to haplology.

It can happen because you lose track – in a word such as unununium, for instance (and, by the way, if you were to lose track the other way and make ununununium or haplolology, that would be dittology, as would dittotology). It can happen because it’s a real nuisance to say – in a word such as peroration or library (especially in British pronunciation), the sequential /r/s are extra exercise for the tongue, like a couple of sit-ups, so they do tend to smear into one /r/. Or it can just happen because to heck with it. Who needs morphophonology when you can have morphonology? You probably can’t be bothered with both /b/s in probably most of the time. (Dropping both of them down to “prolly” is not only haplology but also deletion.)

On the other hand, you’re less likely to do it with a word such as titivate or mimetic or gigabyte; you can skip over bits in the mushy middle of a word, especially when they’re unaccented, but up front the salience adds distinctiveness.

We know that there are many languages where reduplication is actually an important morphological feature; Hawai‘ian gives us mu‘umu‘u and humuhumunukunukuapua‘a, among others, for instance, and you would not expect them to trim those down, because that would change the meaning. But many people think haplology is also infra dig for the language of Englaland, a sign of a simpleton.

No, Englaland was not a dittograph (reduplication in writing or typing); it’s what the name of the place was at first (or Anglaland, Englalond, or a few other versions). Say it a few times and it should be clear why it easily folded into England. It stands as a bit of a counterbalance to those who would maintain some sort of idololatry of the original. Oh, sorry – although idololatry would be true to the Greek and subsequent Latin source, it’s always been idolatry in English.

But it’s true it’s simple. That’s the point: simplify. The haplo is from Greek ἁπλοῦς haplous “single, simple”. The term was actually coined in the late 1800s by the American philologist (not philogist) Maurice Bloomfield. It doesn’t get used a lot, but we sure do what it names a fair amount. With the double lick of /l/ it’s like a la-la lark or glossolalia, and if it makes you happy make no apology.

Thanks to Lynne Melcombe and her blog post The Happy Haplologist? for bringing this word to my attention.

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6 responses to “haplology

  1. And thanks to you, James, for your very entertaining explanation of the word. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. Dos that make us all hapless haplologists?

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  4. Your blogs keep inspiring me. Keep it up!

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