LINGUIST List 15.518

Sun Feb 8 2004

Disc: New: "double be" and other non-standard BEs

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  1. Sebastian Ross-Hagebaum, "double be" and other non-standard BEs

Message 1: "double be" and other non-standard BEs

Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2004 00:48:27 -0500 (EST)
From: Sebastian Ross-Hagebaum <srhrice.edu>
Subject: "double be" and other non-standard BEs


This is in response to Patrick McConvell's summary post on the English
"double be" construction and its extension from the "classical"
pattern (The thing is is (that) S) to a more general use in copular
sentences ("The headline is is kinda cute"). [Linguist 15.427]

First, there are, to my knowledge, at least three further publications
on this construction in addition to the four articles Patrick
McConvell mentions in his summary. These are:

Bolinger, Dwight. 1987. The remarkable double "is". English Today 9:
39-40.

Shapiro, Michael and Michael C. Haley. 2002. The reduplicative copula
"is is". American Speech 77/3: 305-312.

Andersen, Gisle. 2002. "The best parts is, is that you get to shoot
your opponent" - Corpora and the double copula. In: Leiv Egil Breivik
and Angela Hasselgren (eds.), From the COLT' mouth ... and others'
Language Corpora Studies in Honour of Anna-Brita Stenstrom. Amsterdam,
New York: Rodopi, 43-58.

Second, the construction that he labels "that's the thing is that
[clause]" is more appropriately labeled "that's X is Y". This
shorthand is not maximally general, since neither the initial
demonstrative, nor the two copulas need to occur in the forms as
suggested by the label. However, the suggested label reflects the by
far most frequently attested realization of this construction. In
particular, it is not the case that X tends to be (unmodified)
"thing", nor Y a finite clause. While such manifestations exist, there
are many others as well. Here are some attested examples of the
"that's X is Y" construction:

(1) 
a. That's the thing about Hondas though is they last forever.
b. That's where we still have to eat is the Raven Grill.
c. That's my goal in life is to make you an optimist.
d. And that's my big area of interest in linguistics is discourse.
e. That's what I liked about her too is she fixed her own car.

I will present the distribution of the various kinds of syntactic
realizations of the X- and Y-slot of this construction at the upcoming
BLS conference... and thus not give away more here.

My current analysis of the "that's X is Y" construction is in terms of
two types of blends:

(2) [cf. (1d) above]
a. And that's my big area of interest in linguistics.
b. My big area of interest in linguistics is discourse.

(3) [cf. (1e) above]
a. That's what I liked about her too.
b. What I liked about her too is she fixed her own car.

So, a construction like (1e) is the result of a blend of a reverse
wh-cleft (cf. (3a)) and a wh-cleft (cf. 3b)). A construction like (1d)
is the result of a blend of a reverse equative construction (cf. (2a))
and an equative construction (cf. (2b)). What these four constructions
share is that they are identificational (or specificational)
constructions. It is not clear to me, why "that's X is Y" is an
extension of the "double be" as suggested by McConvell.

McConvell noted the extension of "double be" into the domain of
copular clauses in general (recall "The headline is is kinda
cute"). Such predicative uses of the "is Y" part in the "that's X is
Y" construction are unattested in my data (of just below 200 attested
and corpus tokens). So I have nothing like "That's the problem with
Houston is unsolvable" (manipulated from the attested "That's the
problem with Houston is the potholes").

Are there any thoughts on this?



-Sebastian Ross-Hagebaum

Rice University
srhrice.edu

Subject-Language: English; Code: ENG 
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