Difference in repetition, explained

Occasionally, repetitions of similar-looking or similar-sounding words can make perfect sense to fluent speakers of a language but completely confuse the uninitiated. Take, for example the following:

English (with an Australian accent): Sick Sikh seeks six Sikhs.

Swedish: Hon, hon hann inte, hon, men han, han hann, han.

Old Norse: Hann á á á á.

Mandarin: Youtube clip of a woman telling a story by saying “shi” for 37 seconds


The Swedish sentence means, “She didn’t make it, but he made it.” Han (he) and hann (past tense of hinna, to make it, or to have time for something) sound identical, and the extra pronouns are added for emphasis.

The Old Norse sentence means, “He owned a ewe by the creek.” In this case, á is simultaneously the third person singular past tense of eiga (to own), a noun meaning either ewe or creek, and a preposition meaning on. Prepositional phrases can be annoying to translate, since they often don’t translate piecemeal.

I am not a Mandarin speaker, so I have to take it for granted that the translation provided in the video is accurate. If someone could provide a Mandarin transcript of the video, though, I would be most grateful.


One thought on “Difference in repetition, explained

  1. Pingback: Difference in repetition | Linguistic Parlor Tricks

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