LINGUIST List 15.535

Mon Feb 9 2004

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

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  1. Jill Murray, Re: 15.518, Disc: New: "double be" and other non-standard BEs
  2. Patrick McConvell, English double-be: corrections and reply to Ross-Hagebaum

Message 1: Re: 15.518, Disc: New: "double be" and other non-standard BEs

Date: Mon, 9 Feb 2004 12:39:55 +1100
From: Jill Murray <>
Subject: Re: 15.518, Disc: New: "double be" and other non-standard BEs

Just as I was reading this posting I had a phonecall from an Irish
speaker who used the construction twice in a five minute
conversation. It is not a feature of Australian English and I had
never heard it before. Both were "The thing is, is that ..." Purpose
seemed to be further emphasis of topicalisation. Could this be a
regional feature?

Jill Murray
University of New South Wales

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Message 2: English double-be: corrections and reply to Ross-Hagebaum

Date: Mon, 09 Feb 2004 09:01:01 +1100
From: Patrick McConvell <>
Subject: English double-be: corrections and reply to Ross-Hagebaum

I wish to respond to Sebastian Ross-Hagebaum's comment 
(Linguist 15.518) on my summary on new extensions of 'double be'
(Linguist 15.427), and add some corrections to my summary based on
other feedback that I have had.

I used the formulation 'that's the thing is that [clause]' as a label
for the other construction discussed by Ross-Hagebaum as a shorthand,
not to imply that 'the thing' or similar phrases are the only 'first
predicates' here - I discuss a range of these in my 1988 article in
fact (see summary for reference), and indeed the first part need not
be a copular clause at all. I admit this is a poor choice of label.
Where I was mistaken is in saying that the 'second predicate' is a
clause - clearly it can also be a NP as in Ross-Hagebaum's examples,
but it is an equational rather than descriptive predicate. It may be
that this NP type is a new extension itself: we do not have the
longitudinal data to investigate that yet.

Ross-Hagebaum is sceptical about whether this other construction is
related to 'classic' 'double-be'. I believe this is related to
'double-be' because the process involved is some kind of
'lexicalisation of prosody': replacement of a prosodic phenomenon
(usually represented in punctuation as colon or dash), by a form of
BE, exactly as in 'double-be'. This prosodic phenomenon involves a
preceding high tone, often a slight pause, and a resumed high tone on
the following material (after the 'colon'). So I believe that the
construction discussed by Ross-Hagebaum is a kind of blend, with the
blended clauses as follows (manipulating his example to show this)

That's what I liked about her too: she fixed her own car. What I
liked about her too is she fixed her own car.

Compare this to the two sentences proposed by Ross-Hagebaum as blend

(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.

The crucial issue here is that my blend components are virtually
synonymous where R-H's are not. While I have not worked out the
details, I think a theory of blends needs to be constrained to deal
with synonymous constructions only.

My 1988 analysis proposes that the construction above developed from
'classic' double-be as the initial blend involved in double-be
released a free element - a BE equivalent to colon prosody - which
then slotted in at other places. The good thing about this hypothesis
is that it is testable provided we can track the progress of the
constructions through longitudinal corpora. It is possible (but in my
view unlikely) that the other construction (for which we still need a
hypothesis-neutral name) could have preceded and engendered classic

Talking of corpora, I may have been premature in claiming that they
contain clear examples of the new extension I raised eg

The headline is is kinda cute

David Lee of MICASE corrected my interpretation of what he told me.
MICASE transcribers were not trained to distinguish 'double be' from
hesitation and he doubts if this is possible. They were aware of
'double be' and marked pauses with a comma. Pauses or their absence
alone are not diagnostic of 'double be' or hesitation-repetition. In
particular his colleague believes that the sentence I cited from
MICASE is an example of hesitation-repetition, not the 'new extension'
of 'double-be' I was looking for.

I am still confident that the example I heard was not
hesitation-repetition and when I have time I will be listening to
corpora examples where available to check. I repeat my comment in the
summary that there is a need for a good phonetic study of these
phenomena (including those discussed by Ross-Hagenbaum) and
recommendations for practical transcription flowing from that.

I have had a number of other messages as a result of the summary
posted. Most of these were further examples of 'classic' double be or
old-style English grammatical be-be sequences; one person (Kim
Schulte) drew a comparison with the now common 'had have'
construction. Nobody has reported an example of the type I was looking
for, however.

Patrick McConvell
Research Fellow, Language & Society
GPO Box 553
Canberra, ACT, 2601

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