Remultiplication: a term for compositional analysis

(~360 words)

In my study of compositionality, I’ve found a rather blatant pattern that lacks a word-handle. When things come together to compose something larger, the things are extremely often similar or even identical things. I call this pattern remultiplication: the coincidence of similar entities in a composition, especially on the same level within the composition’s partonomy and often when every single one of the partonomic siblings on that level are involved.

Remultiplication is everywhere. From my vantage point writing this, I can observe the remultiplication of strings on a guitar, the remultiplication of pixels on a display, of keys on a keyboard, of fingers on my hand, threads in a shirt, legs in a table, panes in a window, leaves on a branch. This can even happen with words: “salad-salad” in English, “wiki-wiki” in Hawaiian (“very fast”), or “rikrikrik” in Molikese. In linguistics, such a doubling or a tripling of elements is called “reduplication” or “retriplication,” respectively, and I find “remultiplication” to be the natural generalization of that concept to quantities beyond three and entities beyond words.

There are often very different reasons for remultiplication. The remultiplication of planets in a star system happened by them coalescing simultaneously out of a gas cloud. The remultiplication of cells in a body happened when one cell started dividing and the daughter cells stuck together. The remultiplication of bricks in a wall happened because a bricklayer iteratively put them there. The remultiplication of distributaries in a river delta happened because of iterated sediment deposition and channel switching. Regardless of the mechanism, there is a recurring compositional theme in all of these, and I call that remultiplication.

Figure 1. The remultiplication of stamina in a flower and of flowers on an inflorescence in Acacia dealbata.
(photo credit: me)

Remultiplication and fractals

“Fractal” is another term used for entities with internal similarity. Whereas remultiplication is concerned with similarity on one level of a partonomy, fractals also exhibit similarity across different scales and thus up and down the levels in a partonomy. It is possible for there to be up- and down-scale self-similarity without remultiplication, such as in a logarithmic spiral, whose zoomed-in center is self-similar to the zoomed-out whole.


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