LINGUIST List 16.149

Tue Jan 18 2005

Qs: Gesture/Spoken Language; 'What on Earth' Construct

Editor for this issue: Steven Moran <>

We'd like to remind readers that the responses to queries are usually best posted to the individual asking the question. That individual is then strongly encouraged to post a summary to the list. This policy was instituted to help control the huge volume of mail on LINGUIST; so we would appreciate your cooperating with it whenever it seems appropriate.

In addition to posting a summary, we'd like to remind people that it is usually a good idea to personally thank those individuals who have taken the trouble to respond to the query.

To post to LINGUIST, use our convenient web form at


        1.    Joan Leopold, Gesture and Spoken Language
        2.    maria polinsky, 'What on Earth' Construction

Message 1: Gesture and Spoken Language

Date: 17-Jan-2005
From: Joan Leopold <>
Subject: Gesture and Spoken Language

Does anyone have references to historical or recent articles on the issue of:
 whether gesture language existed before and preceded all forms of spoken
 language; or whether gesture language always coexisted with spoken language.
 Thank you. 
 Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics

Message 2: 'What on Earth' Construction

Date: 17-Jan-2005
From: maria polinsky <>
Subject: 'What on Earth' Construction

In several languages, questions of the type ''what on earth'', or ''what
the hell'' (what on earth/the hell were you thinking?) involve the mention
of hell or devil. Some examples: wh- the hell (English), que diable
(French), Was zum Teufel (German), wh- le-'azazel (Hebrew). I am curious
how widespread this tendency is and whether or not it represents an ''areal
cultural'' phenomenon, somehow rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. So
here are my two questions:
1) are there any studies of the composition of what-the-hell expressions?
2) how do these expressions pattern in other languages?
I will be happy to post a summary of your responses. 

Thank you!
Maria Polinsky 

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue