LINGUIST List 3.121

Fri 07 Feb 1992

Disc: Is, is, But, Parsing Challenge

Editor for this issue: <>


  • Ron Smyth, Re: 3.106 Is, is, Finite-Sets
  • "NAME " William Marslen-Wilson "", Is, is, ....
  • , Australian 'but'
  • William J. Rapaport, A Parsing Challenge

    Message 1: Re: 3.106 Is, is, Finite-Sets

    Date: Tue, 4 Feb 92 10:08:54 ESTRe: 3.106 Is, is, Finite-Sets
    From: Ron Smyth <>
    Subject: Re: 3.106 Is, is, Finite-Sets

    Steve Helmreich asks about "All's I know is..." I too used this until I made a dialect change in my late teens. I have never 'felt' that it was a contracted 'is'; I even remember wondering why I said it, and knowing that it wasn't standard. I don't seem to have any intuitions about it anymore, so it's hard to think of relevant argument for and against copula status, but maybe the fact that you can't (?) say "X is all's we're doing" at least shows that it's not just a dialect variant of 'all', i.e. a plural marker or whatever. Comments from native speakers? Ron Smyth

    Message 2: Is, is, ....

    Date: Wed, 5 Feb 92 12:49 GMT
    From: "NAME " William Marslen-Wilson "" <>
    Subject: Is, is, ....

    Students of the "Is is" phenomenon in English might be interested in the following fragment that was circulating in The Netherlands in the early 1980's:


    Op een bij

    Er was een bij te's-Gravenhage Die antwoord wist op alle vragen Toen men hem moeilijk genoeg "Wat was was eer was was was?" vroeg werd hij winnaar van de quiz met "Eer was was was was was is."

    This was attributed to Kees Stip. Apparently, with the right intonational bracketing, the final sequence of five "was" and one "is" is quite acceptable. For the exact interpretation I'd have to appeal to some reader whose Dutch is less rusty than mine. Of course, not all those "was" may have the same status.

    William Marslen-Wilson Birkbeck College University of London

    Message 3: Australian 'but'

    Date: Wed, 5 Feb 1992 9:38:44 +0Australian 'but'
    Subject: Australian 'but'

    As a native speaker of a 'but' dialect (West Australian English), I might make a few qualifying comments oin previous postings. It seems reasonably clear to me that the BUT tag is most common to the West coast of this continent. It was wierd enough when I moved to Canberra in the late seventies that natives there would comment on the expression with some regularity.

    I haven't seen the "Fringe Dwellers" movie either but know that the book describes life in the small Western Australian town of Geraldton. BUT is not particular to the Aboriginal population, but I suspect the Aboriginal actors in that movie were Western Australians, while other actors were not necessarily. The BUT is certainly more common in country areas (where I grew up) than in the big smoke.

    Yes, But is similar to THOUGH, though I am sure it can be used apart from a particular response to a question or comment from an interlocuter, and I don't have an intuition that THOUGH can be used in the same way.

    As a final comment, the construction is so pervasive in Western Australia, especially among children, that it influences other languages. The following example is from a six year old French-WAEnglish bilingual. He had lost the straw from a covered cup. Mum asks why he can't keep an eye on things:

    J'ai pas perdu le couverde, MAIS.

    Similar fWAnglais constructions abound. I'm not going to tell the Academie but.

    Alan Dench Centre for Linguistics University of Western Australia Nedlands, WA 6009.

    Message 4: A Parsing Challenge

    Date: Tue, 4 Feb 92 12:53:44 ESTA Parsing Challenge
    From: William J. Rapaport <rapaportcs.Buffalo.EDU>
    Subject: A Parsing Challenge

    Here's a good test of getting your antecedents straight:

    "While in Raleigh, Mr. Sulzberger Jr. married Gail Gregg, whom he met while visiting his mother in Topeka, who had moved there and which was Ms. Gregg's hometown."

    - Alex Jones, "Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Passes Times Publisher's Post to Son," New York Times, 17 January 1992, p. A19.