LINGUIST List 3.139

Tue 11 Feb 1992

Disc: Wat was was...

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Directory

  1. Ivan A Derzhanski, Wat was was...? (was Is, is, ...)
  2. bert peeters, 3.121 Was was was
  3. Margaret Fleck, eer was was was ....

Message 1: Wat was was...? (was Is, is, ...)

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 92 13:43:28 GMWat was was...? (was Is, is, ...)
From: Ivan A Derzhanski <iadcogsci.edinburgh.ac.uk>
Subject: Wat was was...? (was Is, is, ...)

William Marslen-Wilson <UBJTA38cu.bbk.ac.uk> posted a "fragment that
was circulating in The Netherlands in the early 1980's" and appealed
for the exact interpretation. I forwarded it to a colleague of mine,
a native Dutch speaker, and obtained the following (her lines are
marked with chevrons):

> Date: Mon, 10 Feb 92 12:52:48 GMT
> From: Laura Joosten <lauraed.cogsci>
> Subject: Re: In de Linguist List gevonden...
> To: iaded.cogsci
> In-Reply-To: iaded.cogsci's message of Sat, 8 Feb 92 10:57:14 GMT

 CONTRIBUTION TO TENSE-LOGIC

 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

> Wat was was eer was was was
>
> the second, the third and the fourth was are not really verbs. They
> are just used as names to refer to the verb. Dutch is an SOV language
> with verb second in main clauses, so in main clauses the finite verb
> is the second constituent of the sentences. All other verbs and all
> verbs in embedded clauses appear sentence final.

(That is, "Wat was _was_ eer _was_ `was' was?".)

 werd hij winnaar van de quiz
 met "Eer was was was was was is."

> Eer was was was was was is

> First, second and fourth was are used referentially, is is used
> referentially as well and the third was is a real verb. I hope this
> is understandable.

(That is, "Eer _was_ `was' was _was_ was `is'".)

Ivan A Derzhanski
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Message 2: 3.121 Was was was

Date: Tue, 11 Feb 92 13:40:30 ES3.121 Was was was
From: bert peeters <peeterstasman.cc.utas.edu.au>
Subject: 3.121 Was was was

> Date: Wed, 5 Feb 92 12:49 GMT
> From: "NAME " William Marslen-Wilson "" <UBJTA38cu.bbk.ac.uk>

> CONTRIBUTION TO TENSE-LOGIC
>
> 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.

I can't make much sense of the title (literally "On a bee") - I suspect
it would have to be "Over een bij" ("About a bee"). Anyway, here is an
English translation of the verse itself:

	There was a bee in The Hague
	Which knew an answer to all questions.
	When it was asked, difficult enough,
	"What was wax before wax was wax?"
	it got the first prize in the quiz
	with "Before wax was wax wax was is"

The pun is lost in translation: the fourth 'was' in the last line is
homonymous between the bee product called in English "wax" and the simple
past tense of "zijn" ("to be)".
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Message 3: eer was was was ....

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 92 17:27:02 -0eer was was was ....
From: Margaret Fleck <mfleckcs.uiowa.edu>
Subject: eer was was was ....


Given the recent postings on strings of the same word in Dutch
sentences, I can't resist the opportunity for humor. Haven't been on
this all that long, so perhaps the moderators will delete this if it's
been posted recently. It was circulating when I was at Yale around
1980, but I'm not sure exactly who to blame for it (and the most
likely two culprits are not on the list and so cannot defend their
reputations).

[The context is a discussion of results on an English writing exam, or
something similar, which takes place in Britain]

 John, where Mary had had "had," had had "had had." "Had had" had had
 the examiners' approval.

I have even run into people who could understand the spoken version of
this, if I was careful about the intonation and specified the context.

Margaret Fleck
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