Featured Linguist!

Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

Donate Now | Visit the Fund Drive Homepage

Amount Raised:


Still Needed:


Can anyone overtake Syntax in the Subfield Challenge ?

Grad School Challenge Leader: University of Washington

Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Inflection and Questioning
Question: What languages do not use vocal inflection to imply a question?
I am an ELL teacher and have 22 different languages in my school.
East African dialects are common and I wondered if they use
inflection to imply they are asking a question?

Koren? Vietnamese? Arabic? Tigrina? Omro? Where can I find this

I can not find any real information on this topic.



Reply: Languages have lots of ways of marking questions. In English the rising intonation occurs most regularly on yes/no questions like "Is it going to rain today?" but less consistently on WH-questions like "what's that on the table?" Play around with the intonation on "You're going to the store, aren't you?" and see what effects you get. In a lot of tone languages, questions are marked by as special word at the beginning or end of the sentence. Because these languages use tone as part of the spelling of a word, and the same sounds with different tones can have different meanings, they don't generally use intonation contours as a way of marking questions. The rising intonation is, in fact, more common in European languages than in much of the rest of the world.

By the way, you'll notice I've used "intonation," not "inflection." In grammatical discussion, inflection deals with prefixes and suffixes of certain types. Pitch contours are in the domain of intonation.
Reply From: Herbert Frederic Stahlke      click here to access email
Date: 16-May-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Inflection and Questioning    M J Hardman     (16-May-2013)
  2. Re: Inflection and Questioning    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira     (16-May-2013)
  3. Re: Inflection and Questioning    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (16-May-2013)

Back to Most Recent Questions