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At times, I've heard native Russian speakers say что что, instead of single что. For example,

(I say something that is incomprehensible to a waitress.)

Что-что?

Is there any difference between что-что and just что? I feel like this is usually used by young women, while men and older women don't say it that much. I also feel like there are other such words (relatively short words) that are often reduplicated, but I'm not sure. Are there perhaps indeed such words, and why are they reduplicated?

2 Answers 2

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Interrogative words are indeed sometimes reduplicated in Russian.

  1. When someone has misheard something or doesn't believe what they've heard, similar to English "come again?"

    • И если получится, то надо будет ехать в Словакию. ― Куда-куда?.. ― В Словакию, за границу.
    • Он чётко изложил свою просьбу ― рекомендация в партию! ― Что-что? ― не понял Игорь Васильевич.
    • Не может быть! Где, где ты увидела? ― Вот, видишь, кольцо одно и второе.
  2. To rhetorically emphasize that the answer is obvious. This is similar to English "what else", "you know what", "I'll tell you what" etc. As in English, in this case, the interrogative word is uttered with a declarative intonation.

    • ― А сама она где? ― Где-где? На окопах
    • ― Просто интересно было бы знать, где он сейчас. ― Где-где… У неё, где же ещё!
    • ― Когда это? ― Когда, когда! Прошлым летом.
  3. As an epizeuxis (a rhetorical device to emphasize the emotionality or rhetoricity of a question), similar to English "where, oh, where":

    • Куда, куда вы удалились // Весны моей златые дни?
    • Зачем, зачем на белом свете // Есть безответная любовь?
  4. In a statement, to underline the fact that it's especially true for the subject in question. It's similar to English "of all", like in "of all people", "of all places"; or "if anything".

    • Казалось бы, уж где-где, а в космическом пространстве пустого места сколько угодно. // Say what you will about any other place, but if there's one thing not lacking in outer space, that's an abundance of empty space.
    • Уж чего-чего, а воздуха в университетских кампусах хватает. // If there's one thing university campuses have a lot of, it's air.
    • — Уж что-что, — говорю, — а вязать я умею. // "If there's one thing I can do", say I, "it's knitting."
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  • Thank you for the answer and while I understood the functionality of replicated interrogative words, I still don't understand the difference between the single and double interrogative. In this case, I think #1 is applied, but doesn't just что also mean the same?
    – Blaszard
    Feb 13, 2022 at 11:59
  • @Blaszard: in case 1, it does
    – Quassnoi
    Feb 13, 2022 at 13:04
  • The first usage should be familiar to English speakers who have heard someone say "what what?"
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 13, 2022 at 20:24
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    @CocoPop: in usage 2, they are not questions. "Where is he? You know where, at his mom's". Or "Where is he? At his mom's, where else".
    – Quassnoi
    Feb 13, 2022 at 20:50
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    No, some people say "What what?" to emphasize their surprise, just like in Russian. The stress is different than in the case you mention: what WHAT versus WHAT what?
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 13, 2022 at 21:00
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Singular "что?" is neutral, whereas reduplicated "что-что?" is used in this situation specifically to express disbelief, surprise, misunderstanding or to clear up something misheard. I'd say it shows an escalation of attention.

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