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Cognitive Linguistics

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The emergence and structure of be like and related quotatives: A constructional account

Lieven Vandelanotte1 / Kristin Davidse2

1University of Namur

2University of Leuven

Correspondence address: L. Vandelanotte, University of Namur (FUNDP), Unité d'anglais, 61, rue de Bruxelles, B-5000 Namur, Belgium. E-mail: 〈

Correspondence address: K. Davidse, University of Leuven, Department of Linguistics, Blijde-Inkomststraat 21, PO Box 3308, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium. E-mail: 〈

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics. Volume 20, Issue 4, Pages 777–807, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/COGL.2009.032, September 2009

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This article investigates the structural assembly and semantics of innovative quotatives such as be like, be all and go in English. While the sociolinguistic origins and spread of these forms have received ample attention, a question that is rarely addressed is how precisely this construction is syntagmatically composed, and how it relates to more canonical forms of speech representation. We argue that the basic component structures are the be like or go clause as a whole (I'm like, he went, etc.) and the reported complement. It is the entire reporting clause, rather than the reporting verb as is traditionally assumed, which is complemented by the quoted material. The proposed interclausal dependence analysis, which applies to English direct speech constructions generally, can accommodate grammatically intransitive as well as semantically nonreportative verbs such as be and go. As well, it helps motivate the emergence of be like and go quotatives by a fundamental semantic correspondence between these, broadly speaking, ‘imitation’ clauses and reporting clauses.

Keywords:: be like; go; quotatives; direct speech; constructions; interclausal relation; complementation

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