Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
Whenever I've come across the use of ''that'' being used twice
consecutively, it's always bothered me. For example, ''That that is
is. That that is not is not. Is that it? It is.'' I recognize the two uses
of the word, but I suppose I'm wondering why, linguistically, there
wasn't a better vehicle created to handle the redundancy of this
word? Does this happen in other languages?
These examples are, as Professor Sampson said, deliberately chosen to play on the two meanings of 'that'. And this is an essential part of all languages. All languages have multiple meanings for words, and all languages have homonyms. In all languages there can be puns and playfulness.
Languages develop in social contexts and do not have to be functional in the same way as computer coding has to be.
Incidentally, what we have here isn't redundancy, as "*That is not is not" is not grammatical. Redundancy is repetition of the same information, and is an essential part of language.
For example take the Standard English sentence:
"Those two cats are black."
The plurality of the cats is supplied FOUR times (plural determiner, number, plural noun, plural concord on verb). Three of these are redundant, but redundancy helps the hearer. With some redundancy, it is more likely that a hearer will get the message.
The same principle applies in engineering -- redundancy makes an aeroplane much safer!
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