LINGUIST List 3.525

Tue 23 Jun 1992

Sum: Indirect Questions

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. John Cowan, Summary on indirect questions

Message 1: Summary on indirect questions

Date: Mon, 22 Jun 92 14:32:16 EDSummary on indirect questions
From: John Cowan <cowanuunet.UU.NET>
Subject: Summary on indirect questions

This is a summary of responses to my query on indirect questions. Thanks to:
	Jorge Hankamer <> for Turkish,
	Nakamura Akira <> for Nchufie,
	Peter Paul <> for German,
	Benji Wald <> for Swahili and other Niger-Congo.

I didn't specify whether I wanted information on WH-questions or on Y/N
questions (like the one in this sentence), and I ended up getting both.
Here's a summary of the results:

	English WH: embedded WH-word (or relative?) rotated to front
	English Y/N: introduced by 'whether' or 'if'
	German WH: embedded WH-word (not a relative pronoun)
	Chinese WH: embedded WH-word in situ
	Chinese Y/N: VERB-NOT-VERB construction
		(normal for direct questions in Chinese)
	Turkish WH: embedded WH-word
	Turkish Y/N: VERB+ly-NOT-VERB construction
		(not normal for direct questions)
	Turkish WH: embedded WH-word
	Nchufie WH: "the person/thing that"
	Swahili WH: embedded WH-word or "the person/thing that"

So (confining myself to WH-questions, which was what I was mostly interested in)
the two main strategies are indirect speech (possibly with rotation, as in
English) and an explicit noun or noun-like word with a modifying relative
clause. Wald says:

> I suspect relative clause and indirect speech are the two
> most common strategies the world over. Both are also possible in English,
> but if you detect a necessary nuance difference between "I don't know who
> did it" and "I don't know the one who did it", these nuances are not
> obligatory in [those] Niger-Congo languages which allow both strategies.

So in essence those languages which do discriminate between the two senses
uniformly use the "embedded question word" strategy to mark one of them,
and I am no further along than before. C'est la vie.

--		...!uunet!cbmvax!snark!cowan
		e'osai ko sarji la lojban

--		...!uunet!cbmvax!snark!cowan
		e'osai ko sarji la lojban
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