bees , undergenlzn

Ellen L. Contini-Morava elc9j at FARADAY.CLAS.VIRGINIA.EDU
Wed Apr 9 15:11:37 UTC 1997

I agree with Joyce Tang Boyland that the most obvious source of _bees_ in
"he just bees crazy when he's around girls" is the 'act in such a way'
send commonly found in 'be good', 'be nice' etc. (and not just in
imperatives:  "Don't mind him, he's just being silly").  But I'm surprised
that this doesn't lead her (or anyone in this discussion so far) to
question the assumed unity of "the paradigm" in which is/are/was/were
(copula) are suppletive alternants of _be_ (infinitive, subjunctive etc.).
In many languages the copula is a distinct form from an apparently
synonymous infinitive and they have different historical sources.  For
example, in Swahili the copula _ni_ is distinct both grammatically and
historically from the infinitive _ku-wa_, the source of the latter being a
verb meaning 'become'.  It's true that 'be' and is/are/was/were are in
complementary distribution, and that symmetry with other verbs makes them
look like a paradigm, but they also have different ranges of meaning, as
pointed out in this discussion (is/are/was/were don't have the
"volitional" sense whereas 'be' allows it) and, most obviously, differ in
form.  Rather than positing two different _be_s in English, a volitional
one and a non-volitional one, it seems more reasonable to attribute the
volitionality to context (such as the imperative, which has the same
effect in e.g. "smell the coffee" vs. "I smell coffee"), and the
resistance of is/are/was/were to a volitional reading suggests that they
are not entirely synonymous with _be_, however neatly they might be
squeezed into a paradigm.  As Dwight Bolinger liked to point out,
differences in form are likely loci of differences in meaning.

Ellen Contini-Morava

On Tue, 8 Apr 1997, Joyce Tang Boyland wrote:

> I think that children's regularization of "be" is more profitably
> thought of as a case of *under*generalization, where pieces of the
> paradigm are being split off to serve particular different functions.
> That is, there's the "be" that means "act in such a way"
> (which is consistent with the input to children: be good, be nice, etc.),
> and then there's the copula (which, in the input, is often just a clitic
> 'm, 're, or 's).  It's pretty reasonable for kids to undergeneralize "be"
> to mean just the "act thus" sense.
> It's comparable, say, to the splitting off of "haf to" from the rest of "have".
> My husband, for example, says things like "They were hafing to shout all day"
> where "haf to" is just the "must" meaning.
> Children undergeneralize all the time, and adults do it too.
> It makes sense to me to see this as a specific case of a general phenomenon.
> Incidentally, this isn't a case of grammaticization (the opposite, really),
> but i don't think it's far-fetched to say that processes like this
> often contribute to grammaticization. (for further discussion of general
> cognitive processes in grammaticization, ask for my dissertation).
> Joyce Tang Boyland

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