LINGUIST List 3.44

Sat 18 Jan 1992

Disc: Is, is

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Summary of responses on "is is"
  2. Margaret E. Winters, Re 3.18 Is, is
  3. BARBARA PARTEE, Re: 3.29 Is, is
  4. Nancy L. Dray, Is is (3.18, 3.29)

Message 1: Summary of responses on "is is"

Date: Mon, 13 Jan 92 18:24:08 CSSummary of responses on "is is"
From: <GA5123SIUCVMB.bitnet>
Subject: Summary of responses on "is is"

 I thank all who responded to my inquiry about "the reason is, is...",
both publicly and privately. The latter include Claudia Brugman,
Will Fitzgerald, Caroline Heycock, Karen Jensen, Louise McNally,
Thomas E. Payne, Steve Ryberg, and Arie Verhagen.
 Here are the main points made:
 1) "Is is" occurs in many places in the U.S., and in that sense it is
 not regional (Philadelphia, Michigan, California, N.Y., D.C., N.C.,
 Kansas City, Colorado, Boston, state of Washington,...).
 2) "Logical" Standard-English prototypes suggested for "is is" are
 a) a complement NP that is an interrogative clause, with inversion
 ("The question is, is it feasible?").
 b) a free relative used as subject NP
 ("What the cause is, is that people generalize from one datum to
 3) References:
 --David Tuggy presented a paper on "is is" at the 2nd meeting of the
 International Cognitive Linguistics Association, at Santa Cruz
 last summer. Maybe watch for publication in _Cognitive Linguistics_.
 --Michele Emanatian, as a student, wrote a paper on it, in which she
 cites [Dwight] Bolinger as an early observer of the phenomenon.
 I presume this would be the article cited on the List.
 4) More data: I did not just imagine "is was" -- Karen Jensen also
 has heard it; Tuggy's paper reputedly shows why it's "is was"
 but not "was is". Steve Ryberg has heard a *triple* "is",
 and my wife confirms that she also has heard this (not from me!).
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re 3.18 Is, is

Date: Mon, 13 Jan 92 21:27:15 CSRe 3.18 Is, is
From: Margaret E. Winters <GA3704SIUCVMB.bitnet>
Subject: Re 3.18 Is, is

At the Second International Cognitive Linguistics Conference last
August in Santa Cruz David Tuggy (SIL) gave a paper called "The
Thing Is Is That People Say It That Way. The Question Is Is Why?".
He discussed various motivations for these double copula constructions
with some examples where the copulas didn't even match in tense:
 The reason is was that they didn't understand (for example).

He can be reached at SIL (Box 8987 CRB, Tucson, AZ 85738.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Re: 3.29 Is, is

Date: Tue, 14 Jan 92 14:07 EST
Subject: Re: 3.29 Is, is

I just discovered that I'm subject to anti- "is,is" hypercorrection. Last
night at a candidates' forum I jotted down what I thought was a nice example
of an is,is construction that occurred on the fly, only to realize after I
read it over that it was perfectly grammatical: "What the temptation to do
will be (Pause) is to raise tuition." What I think the thing of it wuz wuz,
wuz more embedding than I could process.
	Barbara Partee
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 4: Is is (3.18, 3.29)

Date: Fri, 17 Jan 92 07:11:38 CSIs is (3.18, 3.29)
From: Nancy L. Dray <>
Subject: Is is (3.18, 3.29)

I've been collecting examples of this construction for years, intending
eventually to write something on it, so now that this has appeared
on Linguist I feel I should at least send some data. All of the examples
given below are attested, and in none of these utterances did
it appear that the speaker was making a correction or simply

[Disclaimers: my comments on relative frequency and
acceptability are based only on subjective impressions. The
examples given below are selected from whatever I could find near
the surface of the heap (or rather, my sophisticated filing
system...); although I believe they are fairly representative, they
don't display the full range of possibilities.


Of the mixed-tense forms, "was is" is pretty frequent; "would be
is" and other combinations with modals are also not unusual:

	- "Well, their first question was is what are you doing
	driving around in this car..."

	- "My only question would have been is..."
	(This example given to me by Peter T. Daniels, another
	linguist who has been collecting these for years.)

Anything other than "is" for the second verb is less usual,
although "was was" certainly occurs:

	- "The funny thing was was that I was transferred onto
	your other (phone) line (rather than fully disconnected
	right away)."

As for "is was", I'm pretty sure I've never heard it, and from
my rough understanding of how this construction works I would
not expect it to occur (or at least I would expect that the contexts
in which it could arise would be very infrequent; I'm still unsure
about whether or not this is ruled out altogether); cf., however,
the following attested utterance in which a shift like this occurs,
although the presence of the two verbs in this case, as in "what the
thing is is..", is syntactically expected :
	- "This is just a note from me that I should have deleted,
	but all it [i.e. the point of the note] really is was that [S]".

As for "was" in second position after something other than
another "was" (e.g., "the problem has always been was"?),
I don't think I've collected any, but there may be
contexts in which such combinations could occur.


Several people have mentioned patterns of stress, pauses, and
intonation that are characteristic of this construction. I'd like
to complicate the picture by noting that there are actually several

(1) The first "is" can be stressed and followed by a pause and then
a second "is", which can be very reduced:

	The problem IS, is (that)...

(2) Both "is"'s can be stressed, with no pause between the two,
but rather a pause following the SECOND "is":

	The problem IS IS, (?that)...

Note also:

	The PROBLEM is, is that..
	*The PROBLEM is is, that...
 	??The PROBLEM is, that...
[As Tom Shannon also noted, it is odd to resume with "that" rather
than "is that" after the pause here.]

Compare these with the following, where I believe it is normal
for all speakers to have single, never double, "is":

	The PROBLEM(,) is that ...

Of course to look only at "Det N is is" as I have in this section is
to vastly oversimplify this.
Some very hasty overall comments (less than fully baked...):

I think it's crucial to look at how this construction arises in actual
discourse. In the mixed-tense forms especially we can see some
difference between the role of the first occurrence of the apparent
copula and the role of the second, and looking more closely at those
examples may shed some light on the more usual "is is" utterances
as well. One thing that may be relevant is that the first part of "is
is" utterances (e.g., "The problem is...") is typically more "meta"--
it tells what the second part is to be taken as and how it fits into the
larger discussion--while the second part presents itself as
substance. Thus the tense of each may be determined in relation to
a different level of structuring in the discourse, a different stance
in relation to the content.

Re the introductory phrase as a unit (cf. Ellen Prince's apt
description, "the string gets sort of glommed together"):
I think we need to understand better what it means for something
to be a unit in the PRODUCTION of discourse and how that
may lead to its being treated as in some sense a unit in relation to the

I'd like to see more, too, about the discourse conditions that
produce what some have been referring to as a "resumptive" copula.
 To further this last suggestion, I offer the following collection of odd
(but attested) uses of "is" in discourse:

(1) "It just seems to me is what you're dealing with is..."
(2) "...and you know what else I wanted to tell you? is that [S]."
(I noted that there was some question intonation in "what else I
wanted to tell you" and only a slight pause between "you" and "is".)
(3)"All it's saying is is that you're being paid out of the grant."
(4)"There was something that I was thinking about the other day
was that [S]."
(5)"That clarifies something about the parable about the ten wise
and ten foolish virgins which has always bothered me, is that [S]."
(6)"Actually Kostas mentioned something that hadn't occurred to
me, is that I think actually if somebody..."
(7) Said by my mother about how she was settling into a new
apartment: "I don't have much in the way of good lighting in this
apartment, is what I haven't figured out yet."
(8)"You know who has weird gestures is [proper name]."
(9)"She's [proper name]'s secretary is what I think she is."
(10)"I can get a cup of coffee and bring it back. Maybe I SHOULD
really do that, is get a cup of coffee and bring it back to [place]."
(11)"This is the part that I really enjoy about these classes, is
the camaraderie."

Well, that's about it. Sorry to try your (you-all's? your-all's?)
patience with such a long posting--I hope it is not inappropriate--
and thank you for motivating me to finally make a stab at gathering
this stuff together. I hope it may be of some use. I've actually
omitted a fair bit of commentary, so if any of you are interested,
please write me. Likewise if you have further comments,
references, or intriguing examples--I continue to be interested
in this and look forward to reading other postings and the various
articles that have mentioned.

			Nancy L. Dray
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue