Baylor Linguistics Club

March 16, 2009

Anja Moehring lecture, March 20th, 2009

Filed under: News — baylorlingclub @ 6:19 pm

At 3:00 on Friday, March 20th, in Carroll Science room 101, Anja Moehring of the Baylor Modern Foreign Languages department will deliver a special lecture. This event is open to anyone who wishes to attend. The details of the talk are included below:

Constructions in English: “over and over” versus “again and again” – identical or different meanings?

When communicating with each other, we combine words to form sentences, for instance “The dentist pulled the wrong tooth.”* Sometimes, however, we cannot derive the meanings of the sentence from adding up the meaning of its individual words. Consider for instance “to pull someone’s leg”: We have to learn that the whole phrase – the idiom – has the meaning “to kid someone” and that it has nothing to do with the action of “pulling” and “legs”. Constructions can be seen as structural idioms. The grammatical structure itself carries a meaning. An example is the so-called “What’s X doing Y” construction (Kay and Fillmore 1999) which is the ‘blueprint’ for sentences like “What’s this fly doing in my soup?” or “What am I doing reading this paper?”.  The meaning of this construction is 1) a request or demand for an explanation and 2) denoting an inadequacy of the situation.

Over and over”  as well as “again and again” are examples of the “X-and-X” construction in English. A corpus study of the British National Corpus (BNC) showed that the “X”-slot of this construction can be filled by verbs (“And he ate and ate…”), nouns (“Watch tons and tons of superhero movies”), adjectives (“Robots will get smarter and smarter.”), prepositions (“Officer fired Taser over and over”) and adverbs (“password incorrect again and again”). The meaning of the construction can be described as open-ended quantifying, i.e. the final endpoint of the action or quantity denoted by “X” is removed. To illustrate this point, we could paraphrase the sentence “… he ate and ate…” as “He didn’t stop eating.

For “over and over” and “again and again”, the meanings are very similar but native speakers have the intuition that they are not identical. How can we find out whether they are different, and if so, what could that difference be? Since both, “over and over” and “again and again” occur as adverbials in sentences and adverbials have the power to change the aspectual value of the sentence, a theory about tense and aspect will help us to find the hidden semantics of these two instances of the “X-and-X” construction.

*All examples are taken from


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