motion-goal BE

Overheard at lunch a few days ago:

(1) We’re going to Puerto Rico for the holidays; I’ve never been.

My first interpretation of the (elliptical) second clause was as

(2) I’ve never been to Puerto Rico.

with what I’ll call “motion-goal BE” in the pattern:

(3) HAVE been [PP to PLACE ]

where the lexical item BE is a motion verb, roughly glossable as ‘go’, so that (3) conveys ‘HAVE gone to PLACE’. Think of Charlene singing

(4) Ooh I’ve been to Georgia and California, and, anywhere I could run
…  I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me

(I’ll get to Charlene in a while. Meanwhile, you can hear her singing “I’ve Never Been to Me” by going to this YouTube site. Note: opinions about this song are strongly polarized: many people think it’s one of the world’s worst songs, while others think it provides wonderful advice about attending to your feelings. Please: I am not soliciting opinions here.)

Or with past perfect rather than present perfect:

(5) I realized that I’d been to Georgia and not eaten a single peach.

There’s a lot to be said about motion-goal BE, beyond its having BE as a motion verb.

To start with, it’s not just motion, but motion towards PLACE as a goal.

And then, the pattern refers to a past action (present *I am being to Georgia ‘I am going to Georgia’, futurate present *I am to Georgia at noon ‘I go to Georgia at noon’, future *I will be to Georgia ‘I will go to Georgia’). Even then, BE as a motion verb does not occur (these days, in standard English) in the simple past tense (*I was to Georgia ‘I went to Georgia’) —  only in (3), which conveys past action via perfect aspect (HAVE been in (3)).

(Note: “these days, in Standard English”. OED3 (Nov. 2010) says “chiefly and now only in the perfect”, but that’s a bit too strong, since there are dialects, like my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother’s, in which the restriction to past action remains, but the simple past, as in I was to the store today alongside I’ve been to the store today, is possible.)

A small complexity: it’s possible that the elliptical second clause of (1) is to be understand as having ordinary location BE — as ‘I’ve never been in Puerto Rico’, which has no restriction to perfect aspect. But motion-goal BE is otherwise alive and well, as in Charlene’s song; it even has its own subentry under be in the OED (though not under that name).

Next observation, ultimately from OED3: the pattern in (3) implicates that the referent of the subject of BE has returned, or at least is on the way back; the motion in (3) is round-trip, to the GOAL and back. OED3 says implication rather than implicature, but that’s surely because most of its readers are unlikely to know the technical term implicature. But implicature it is, since it can be canceled — as it is by the negation in (2), or by the interrogative form of

(6) Have you ever been to Puerto Rico?

Otherwise, we assume a round trip, and this can be made explicit:

(7) I’ve been to Georgia and back. ‘I’ve gone to Georgia and come back’

Consonant with this assumption, examples in which we stipulate no return are semantically odd:

(8) ??I’ve been to Georgia, and I’m still there.

We can now see that the full range of adverbials occurring with motion-goal BE takes in much more that PPs with the P to: PPs with around and across, for instance, and the one-word adverbial abroad:

(9)
a. I’ve been around the Cape of Good Hope.
b. I’ve been around the perimeter of the building.
c. I’ve been around the world.

(10)
a. I’ve been across the Pacific.
b. I’ve often been across the state line.
c. I’ve rarely been across the river.

(11) I’ve been abroad.

With across + NP and abroad, location BE readings are often available in addition to motion-goal BE readings:

(11a) I’ve been abroad, and I’m delighted to be home again. [motion-goal]

(11b) I’ve been abroad for six months now, and I’m getting homesick. [location]

“I’ve Never Been to Me”. From Wikipedia:

“I’ve Never Been to Me” is the title of a ballad, written and composed by Ron Miller and Kenneth Hirsch, which is best known via a recording by American pop singer Charlene. Its original release in 1977 barely registered on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., but its re-release in 1982 [went gold].

… In 1994, the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert opened with Hugo Weaving lip-synching this song while in drag.

(I’ve given a link to the Charlene recording above in this posting.) I mention its use in Priscilla here because that’s where I first came across it, and at the time, I thought that having a drag queen perform the self-involved and self-dramatizing song was just perfect. You can view the Priscilla version here.

The relevant lyrics:

Ooh I’ve been to Georgia and California, and, anywhere I could run
Took the hand of a preacherman and we made love in the sun
But I ran out of places and friendly faces because I had to be free
I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me

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