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How to express "small small" in English?

This question was put on hold as 'not clear' but OP has said 'subcontinental languages' which obviously refers to Indian subcontinental languages, because I have not heard of any other subcontinent. Moreover the tag 'Indian English' has been used.

My guess is that this is merely used to express a plural form (...) Am I right?

OP wants to know 'whether I am is right to think that double words like big big and small small indicate plurality?' The title asks: How should I express this in (idiomatically correct) English?

What is not clear in this question?

John Hamilton has written a very confident, correct answer that was supported by 1006a. It says that OP is right to interpret plurality, and the equivalent English term would be 'numerous' or 'many.' I can confirm that this answer is correct, and I ought to know because I am Indian!

MANY USERS MADE WELL-INTENTIONED SPECULATIVE ANSWERS THAT WERE FAR OFF TARGET.

Are we supposed to present 'educated guesswork' as answers rather than comments? Was that the reason for putting this Q on hold?

If not, then there is nothing ambiguous about the question and it ought to be reopened.

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    english.stackexchange.com/questions/389766/… I have now edited this question as advised by members, in an effort to make it clear enough to reopen. – English Student May 23 '17 at 16:42
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    It is now reopened. This situation is similar, although not identical, to english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10166/… There, an incorrect answer had been accepted. The other difference was that the OP was around, and responsive. I read the entire discussion, here and on the original question thoroughly, and upvoted Hamilton's answer. Maybe enough people will do the same so Hamilton's answer will rise to the top. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow May 23 '17 at 17:10
  • @ab2 thanks for the information and feedback. Do you mean that there is no way to get rid of a demonstrably wrong answer other than letting it sink by voting? Wrong answers have collected a huge number of upvotes on that question! – English Student May 23 '17 at 17:17
  • I think that is correct. The answers do not qualify as spam, Not an Answer, or Very Low Quality, for which there are flags and a review process by >3,000 rep users. The review can kill an answer. There is also a flag for moderator review, but I don't think that flag would work in this case. I advise waiting 24 hours to see the correct answer rises as a result of the reopening; if not you could ask another Meta question about whether there is any solution to having wrong answers appear as right answers. Also, downvote the wrong answers and upvote my comment on the two highest voted answers. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow May 23 '17 at 19:13
  • @ab2 thank you. This is especially important because some members felt that 'something wrong with OP's question' provoked all those loose cannon answers, leading to the Q being closed. Now that the question has been edited, improved, reopened and even reclaimed by OP, the wrong answers should also disappear, because they will not only mislead future readers but also affect the academic profile of this great website. Your support and interest is highly appreciated. – English Student May 23 '17 at 21:12
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As my comment shows, I was unsure about the question from the start. I ultimately voted to close it because of the flood of answers that showed no attempt to provide a suitable alternative to the Indian expression "small small", but that instead simply seemed to be guesses about what the words "small small" sounded like they meant to someone who doesn't speak Indian English, or irrelevant facts about how word repitition is used in standard English. Probably I should have just voted to close it earlier.

People asking for words or phrases need to clearly explain the meaning of the desired word or phrase in the question. I don't see this here. "My guess is that this is merely used to express a plural form" is obscure and hard to interpret unless you are already familiar with the usage in question. Many people seem to have just ignored this sentence.

Look at how many wrong or irrelevant answers are voted above John Hamilton's answer, because it wasn't clear to the answerers and voters what the OP was actually looking for.

If the OP doesn't actually know the meaning of "small small" in Indian English, it's impossible to know what the best answer to this question is. It would have been better to ask another question first to establish the clear meaning of this phrase. If the OP does know the meaning of "small small" already, then this meaning needs to be explained better in the question. Rather than a single sentence starting with "My guess is...," the question needs to emphasize that "small small" is not synonymous to "very small", but is used to describe a multitude of small things.

If a question is obviously attracting many overly speculative answers, and these answers are being upvoted rather than downvoted, there's probably some problem in the wording of the question that is contributing to this. Closing the question is a means of preventing more bad answers from being posted until the problem with the wording of the question is fixed.

  • You are very right that OP is not sure of the meaning, and a huge number of members gave irresponsibly speculative answers. In fact OP is providing a phrase here, and a rather confident guess about its meaning, and the question "am I right? What's the equivalent expression in idiomatically correct English?" If OP is not sure of the meaning, or OP is asking for a meaning to a non-standard colloquialism, is it a routine reason for closing a question? Expressions like 'small small' are commonly used in colloquial Indian English to mean 'many small' but it's true OP has not followed up on the Q. – English Student May 23 '17 at 13:20
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    My main point is, I think if a question is obviously attracting many overly speculative answers, and these answers are being upvoted rather than downvoted, there's probably some problem in the wording of the question that is contributing to this. – herisson May 23 '17 at 13:23
  • In this specific case, I would consider that most users thought they knew the answer - many simply assumed 'small small' means really tiny - but most of them were spectacularly wrong! You wouldn't write an answer unless you were sure it was correct, and nor would I, but these persons didn't hold back. It was not the wording of the question but their utter unfamiliarity with the expression quoted (which is admittedly never heard by native speakers) that led to the disastrous guesswork, IMHO! I earnestly want you to understand the difference. – English Student May 23 '17 at 13:29
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    @EnglishStudent: I think that is part of it, but I also think this would have been less of a problem if the question had more details about the meaning of this expression, and presented the information in a less tentative way. There should have been more and better examples, and maybe examples of where it is not used. For example: "There were big big mountains" is good, but do Indian English speakers say "There was a big big mountain"? – herisson May 23 '17 at 13:31
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    True indeed. For whatever reason (and my grandmother used to say we must always give somebody the benefit of the doubt) OP never responded to clarify the question even in the face of the huge number of specularive replies. In fact when referring to one huge mountain Indians will not say 'there was a big big mountain' but 'a very big mountain.' If you closed the question to stop the shot-in-the-dark reckless answers and comments, then I fully agree with you because OP has not (yet) turned up to expand and clarify the question with more context and examples. – English Student May 23 '17 at 13:37
  • Last points: since this is a serious English language Q & A website, the users might have been more scientific and waited for somebody who knows the answer to come along and avoid random guesswork. It would have taken only 5 days in this case but by the time I saw the question there were 8 wrong answers and 2 educated guesses that turned out right! So I humbly suggest that users must be advised to refrain from guesswork, and some arrangement might be devised to bring such niche questions (as in Indian English or any other special group) to the early attention of users native to that region. – English Student May 23 '17 at 13:49
  • english.stackexchange.com/questions/389766/… I have now edited this question as advised by members, in an effort to make it clear enough to reopen. – English Student May 23 '17 at 16:44
  • @EnglishStudent: thank you; I have voted to approve the edit. it needs a few more people I think – herisson May 23 '17 at 16:44
  • Many thanks for such a quick and positive action! – English Student May 23 '17 at 16:45
  • I made a simple edit to the question title to ask "What does "small small" mean in Indian English?" and I think it significantly reduces the confusion in the question. Lots of the answers need to be deleted though. – curiousdannii May 25 '17 at 13:29
  • @curiousdannii very nice edit that improves the clarity by 1000% -- great work bringing the tag Indian English into the title: of course that is exactly what OP meant in the first place! – English Student May 26 '17 at 4:09
  • @EnglishStudent The indian-english tag was there from the very beginning actually! – curiousdannii May 26 '17 at 4:27
  • @curiousdannii indeed it was tagged 'Indian English' by OP right at first, but everybody ignored it like the elephant in the room. Your bringing it into the title makes the context crystal clear. Now at least 4 users should downvote the highest-scoring wrong answer (19 votes) and simultaneously upvote John Hamilton's correct answer (13 votes) to the top of the list. – English Student May 26 '17 at 4:35
  • @EnglishStudent Before upvoting John Hamilton's answer I'd want it to have some evidence that Indian English is doing the same thing as Turkish, because Turkish is unrelated to the Indian languages and is very unlikely to have influenced Indian English. I don't doubt he's correct, but good answers do need to actually be supported by references, quotes, data etc. Not a single answer to that question actually has a single citation to a reference on Indian English! – curiousdannii May 26 '17 at 4:38
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    @EnglishStudent If you have access, pages 59-60 of Sailaja's Indian English discuss it. "It is quite common for non-standard IE to use reduplication to indicate several items of the same quality or to emphasise the quality that is being described." This seems to suggest both plurality and emphasis/intensity. – curiousdannii May 26 '17 at 4:58
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Primarily, the question is unclear as to whether it wants a translation of Indian reduplication, or if it is allowed to do reduplication in English whatever the meaning. So it needs to be edited to clarify which.

Everything that's been written in the ELU question and answers has been speculative or irrelevant (Turkish) or without reference to Indian languages.

And answers should attempt to come from a position of actual knowledge (like knowing the original Indian language).

Optimally, the OP should specify which Indian languages (IE derived vs Dravidian) this reduplication occurs in.

As an aside, in most languages of the world where reduplication occurs, it is usually used as an intensifier translating to 'very'. Indian languages may very well be different.

The question is good and interesting but is not clear about which language it is trying to translate from or just if reduplication is possible at all in English. The question itself needs to be edited to remove speculation.

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    I don't think it was actually asking about a translation from another language, but rather about a phrase in Indian English, which may be influenced by other languages in the region but is its own variety of English. As such, the "indian-english" tag ought to be sufficient. However, this confusion even when we're discussing the question shows the problem with the question. – 1006a May 23 '17 at 14:24
  • @1006a Oh. Right. Confusing. So maybe the question is "I've heard people say big big in Indian-English (Indians speaking English). What does that mean and how would you say that in BrE/AmE." ? But that's just speculating. – Mitch May 23 '17 at 14:27
  • It is not speculation for somebody who knows the answer, which is my point: since this is a serious English language Q & A website, the users might have been more scientific and waited for somebody who knows the answer to come along and avoid random guesswork. It was not the wording of the question but their utter unfamiliarity with the expression quoted (which is admittedly never heard by native speakers) that led to the disastrous guesswork, IMHO! – English Student May 23 '17 at 14:38
  • If OP does not respond in 2 - 3 days, I can try to edit the question and make it clearer with examples, so as to apply for reopening. – English Student May 23 '17 at 14:48
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    @EnglishStudent The trouble is, the expression is used by AmE and BrE speakers, it just means something entirely different. It's also used by West African English speakers, and there it means "little by little". So the only way to "get" the question is with a very close reading of the question, including paying attention to the tag (which many of us ignore, as they're so often wrong or irrelevant) and knowing what the OP meant by subcontinental (which can have more than one meaning—for example, I sometimes use it tongue-in-cheek to refer to Europe). – 1006a May 23 '17 at 15:11
  • @1006a it's OK because not just you but everybody else ignored the 'Indian English' tag which was the elephant in the room, so to speak! My problem is that if I reveal the meaning of 'big big' and 'small small' while editing OP's Q, then it would sound like "I know 'big big' and 'small small' as used in Imdian English (colloquial) mean 'many big' and 'many small', what is the appropriate expression in standard English?" -- the answer is right there in the question already, making it a pointless Q, however good examples I might provide to clarify its meaning! – English Student May 23 '17 at 15:20
  • You could try adding examples by other people (from news or blogs, for example) without commentary. The example the OP chose was especially problematic because it seemed to be juxtaposing "mountains" with "houses", and with that pair it would make sense to emphasize the largeness of the mountains and the smallness of the houses. I think just diluting that association would help clarify matters, without answering the question in the question. – 1006a May 23 '17 at 15:33
  • english.stackexchange.com/questions/389766/… I have now edited this question as advised by members, in an effort to make it clear enough to reopen. – English Student May 23 '17 at 16:44
  • @EnglishStudent thanks for the edit. Whether that was the intention of the OP or not, we might never know but I think it is a much better question now. – Mitch May 23 '17 at 16:57
  • Except... how do you say 'only a few large mountains' or 'many small houses'. – Mitch May 23 '17 at 16:57
  • Thanks! It depends on context and is to some extent arbitrary. In the picture I didn't see many big mountains but I saw many small houses! The thing is that big big mountains means 'a few / some / many' big mountains as appropriate. In fact we can even say 'there were big mountains and small houses in their foothills' if we like: as OP said, repetition of the adjective (which I consider a syntactic quirk of subcontinental languages, passed on to Indian English) conveys nothing more than (mild emphasis and) a plural effect: if it were a single mountain, we wouldn't say 'big big' mountain. – English Student May 23 '17 at 17:04
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    A crude singular-plural exercise would sound like "big mountain -- big big mountains. Small house -- small small houses. Little child -- little little children, etc" To the plural forms, some / a few / many can be added as appropriate: some big big mountains; many big big mountains. A few little little children; many little little children. IN SHORT the adjective is doubled only for the plural form of the noun. – English Student May 23 '17 at 17:12
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I voted to close the question because, so far as I could tell, all of the top-voted answers were speculative and plain wrong, and the OP was not responding to pleas for clarification. Even if the OP had come back to select an answer as the correct one, without any commentary, I might not have VTC. But as the question stands now, some (non-Indian) Googler out there who wants to know "what is the meaning of the phrase small small that I keep hearing on my visit to India?" would get entirely the wrong idea if they landed on that question. We aim to offer definitive answers to questions about the English language, so a question that promotes speculative-to-wrong answers is not a good fit here.

After looking up a lot of examples of the phrase in actual Indian sources, I thought I knew what the answer was (and you have confirmed that belief). If I had stumbled on the question much earlier, I probably would have attempted an answer, rather than commenting on what I took to be the correct answer. If I were more of an expert in the area and much more confident of the OP's intent, I might have tried to fix the question, rather than voting to close, but I don't feel that my own speculations are definitive enough.

HOWEVER, I do think that someone genuinely familiar with Indian English would be justified in adding some characteristic examples of usage to the question (especially published examples). So if you want to edit the question, I would be happy to entertain re-opening it.

  • Many thanks for your support. Even if the question is considered unsatisfactory in detail and context, I object to people giving speculative answers that are plain wrong. If the Q is not clear, all the more reason not to write an answer! Since this is a serious English language Q & A website, the users might have been more scientific and waited for somebody who knows the answer to come along, and avoided random guesswork! How will you get rid of the 6 wrong answers? Let's give poor OP 2 - 3 days; if no response, I will see whether I can improve the question by editing, in order to reopen. – English Student May 23 '17 at 14:52
  • I don't think you need to wait. Question askers are flagged every time there is action on one of their posts, and if they're on the site should have notice that there are comments/questions. In this case, the OP has been on the site to ask two more questions since this one was put on hold, so it seems unlikely that he or she is going to come back to fix the question anytime soon. – 1006a May 23 '17 at 15:07
  • Thank you. "OP has been on the site to ask two more questions since this one was put on hold" is the important point. Let me see how best I can present the question. Meanwhile somebody must try to remove those embarrassingly incorrect answers! – English Student May 23 '17 at 15:10
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    @EnglishStudent That's why we close questions, to prevent possibly incorrect answers, and hope that the OP return to clarify matters before reopening it. – NVZ May 23 '17 at 15:29
  • @NVZ It is indeed a very good reason to close a question! By the way OP is named 'anonymous' and seems to have 36+ gold medals at Stack Overflow -- do you think a single user got all those medals, or is 'anonymous' a generic username and the 36 GM were collected by many different anonymous users? – English Student May 23 '17 at 15:29
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    @EnglishStudent I don't see how discussing the OP's gold medals is relevant here. If your account is old enough, some of your old questions will have received quite a lot of views, and you will get gold medals with enough views also. – NVZ May 23 '17 at 15:39
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    No, the system is able to distinguish users regardless of username. In fact, if you change your username, your old questions will be changed to reflect your new username. (But the text of old comments aren't changed, so you'll see comments on old questions addressed to a user who doesn't appear to exist anymore.) – 1006a May 23 '17 at 15:48
  • @EnglishStudent One user or many, does not matter. Btw, if you read my answer, you'll see that I, being an Indian, am unable to express that "small small" question even a little bit better than what's already posted. So I don't think I can blame the OP for not improving that question. Seeing their network profiles, I think they're not interested in a particular site, but on many different ones. Maybe they'll focus on ELU again after a while. Maybe it's many users using the same ID, but we don't care. – NVZ May 23 '17 at 15:48
  • @NVZ and 1006a in short it is a tough challenge to word this type of question to express the point properly to all readers. It's true that what is self-evident for us is not at all easy for us to write out, and would be very confusing to those not familiar with the context. Let me make an attempt and we will see how it proceeds. Thanks a lot for patiently clarifying these complicated matters for newbie me in meta! – English Student May 23 '17 at 15:54
  • english.stackexchange.com/questions/389766/… I have now edited this question as advised by members, in an effort to make it clear enough to reopen. – English Student May 23 '17 at 16:44
  • For the record:since I raised the question whether there are multiple users under a username, let me clarify that there are over 30 users named 'anonymous' and each has a discrete network profile as explained by 1006a; thus OP who also goes by the username 'anonymous' is indeed the winner of 38 gold medals and numerous other medals in 7 years at Stack Overflow. (no need to reply as this is for the record.) – English Student May 23 '17 at 18:11
  • @Mitch Yes indeed -- you can see the Stack Overflow stats (38 gold and many other medals) below ELU right on that page and can click it for details. – English Student May 23 '17 at 18:19
  • @Mitch The 38 gold are for Stack Overflow, not EL&U. You can see the network-wide stats here: stackexchange.com/users/53211/anonymous?tab=accounts – 1006a May 23 '17 at 18:42

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