The Isis files

Not the Egyptian goddess, certainly not the Islamic terrorist organization, but instead a phenomenon of English syntax involving an unexpected, extra, form of the lexeme BE, most often resulting in the sequence is is, hence the label Isis. There is now an “Isis: is is, double is” Page on this blog, listing postings on the subject on Language Log and this blog, plus bibliographic resources of several types. The Page is freely available publicly, and (like my other Pages) will be updated and added to as new material comes in.

From a 2007 handout:

{For at least 45 years now (2016)] (Dwight Bolinger’s first example is from 1971), English speakers have been producing sentences with an occurrence of a form of BE that is not licensed in standard English (SE) and is not a disfluency – what I’ll call Extris (“extra is”). There are many subtypes… The Isis (“is is”, “double is’, etc.) subtype has gotten much attention – from Bolinger (1987) [on]…

[Two varieties of Isis:]

[N-type, with a “thingy”-N subject] The thing that’s most interesting about the film is is that it’s…

[PC-type, in a pseudocleft sentence] Basically, what they were trying to tell me was, is that whatever Federal Prison Industries was doing was more important…

Isis is one of those things that people keep rediscovering, and then grope their way through questions that have been pretty well settled for some time. For them, I’d recommend a look at this 2007 handout of mine and at the summary in the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America page on “Double IS”. Of course, they’d have to know that such resources exist — and that I don’t know how to fix.

2 Responses to “The Isis files”


    Hi Arnold, I am still interested in this and occasionally note examples that are pushing the envelope beyond what the classic form of double be’s was when I first started hearing them and writing about them. I was at a conference in Sydney about a month ago and hearing people talk about sociolinguistic analysis of variation (no doublebe’s) among L2 migrant speakers of English. I suggested that doublebe’s might be a good thing to study sociololinguistically – whether such speakers pick them up as adults etc. I was surprised that many of the audience, linguists with good background, did not know the phenomenon I was talking about – although it is all around them (Barack Obama did one on the news today). One of the speakers from Ireland said ‘that doesn’t happen in Ireland’, which it clearly does. (Some) people just don’t notice it, it seems.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I think you and I talked about this, some years ago. In general, people don’t register what they perceive as disfluencies or inadvertent errors (and this is a good thing, for the most part); people “listen for meaning”. But that means they miss a lot of real stuff.

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