LINGUIST List 2.534

Tue 17 Sep 1991

Disc: Being

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Phil Bralich, The ellision of -ing
  2. Allan C. Wechsler, Be being

Message 1: The ellision of -ing

Date: Fri, 13 Sep 91 10:29:31 -1000
From: Phil Bralich <bralichuhccux.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu>
Subject: The ellision of -ing
Bruce Nevin responded to a question by Susan Ervin-Tripp based on some
examples from Harris' _A Grammar of English Based on Mathematical Principles_.
Specifically, Susan Ervin-Tripp was wondering what would explain the lack
of -ing in some examples of Harris. Two of the examples are repeated in (1).
	(1) Don't be the mommy. I am not being the mommy.
	 Don't be horrid. I am not being horrid.
In examples like this the lack of the word being is explained quite naturally
by the use of the English tenses. An imperative cannot make a command with
a progressive form of the verb simply because the progressive refers to
actions in progress while the imperative seeks to initiate an action. Since
the action the imperative is seeking to initiate is NOT in progress the pro-
gressive form of the verb is not used. These sentence variations have nothing
to do with adjectives.
Phil Bralich
University of Hawaii
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Message 2: Be being

Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1991 14:14-0400
From: Allan C. Wechsler <ACWYUKON.SCRC.Symbolics.COM>
Subject: Be being
Reading Bruce Nevin's <> response to Susan Ervin-Tripp
on "be being" reminded me of a response I meant to send. It's a
digression, but maybe an interesting one.
The following is just woolgathering. I don't have any real data except
introspection and unreliable memories, but all of this could be checked,
in principle. Here goes.
Role-play is so important to little kids that they have a sort of
technical jargon for talking about it. Central to this jargon is an
idiosyncratic use of "be". In addition to the two or three be's that
adults have, children have another one that is restricted to the meaning
"play the role of". It is different from the other be's in several
ways, but one striking one is that it receives regular verb inflection.
(1) I don't want Susie to be the mommy. Every time Susie bes the mommy,
she spanks us too much.
(2) *... Every time Susie is the mommy ...
(3a) I'm being the mommy.
(3b) I'm the mommy.
Although 3b is grammatical, it doesn't mean the same thing as 3a. 3b
can only be spoken from within the role, while 3a is a technical
statement about role-playing. In fact, in grown-up English
(4) ?I'm being happy.
cannot mean "I'm happy," but only "I'm resolutely acting as if I were
happy even though I'm inclined to be unhappy."
In the role-play reading, you can get sentences like:
(5) They always be the cowboys. They be'd the cowboys yesterday.
In some dialects, and perhaps historically, this regularly-inflected
"be" can be used by adults to mean "turn out / eventuate to be".
(6) Perhaps my [unborn] baby will be a girl.
My last example is from a real English folk-song. The speaker is a
pregnant woman:
(7) And if it bes a girl-child she'll stay at home with me
 And if it bes a boy, he will plough the dark blue sea
 He'll plough the dark blue sea as his daddy's done before...
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