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

Lieven Vandelanotte, Kristin Davidse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)777-807
Number of pages31
JournalCognitive Linguistics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2009


  • Be like
  • Complementation
  • Constructions
  • Direct speech
  • Go
  • Interclausal relation
  • Quotatives


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