LINGUIST List 7.305

Tue Feb 27 1996

Qs: Preaspiration, Was and Etwas

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  1. Bente Henrikka Moxness, Preaspiration
  2. "Nils Langer", Was and Etwas

Message 1: Preaspiration

Date: Tue, 27 Feb 1996 14:52:23 +0100
From: Bente Henrikka Moxness <>
Subject: Preaspiration

Hi; I'm currently working on my thesis in phonetics at the University
of Trondheim (Norwegian University of Science and Technology). The
main topic of my thesis is preaspiration, and I'm in search of more
references to studies on preaspiration. So far I've been able to dig
up very few references. If anyone can help me out, please send me an
e-mail message!

Bente Henrikka Moxness

Dept. of Linguistics
University of Trondheim
7055 Dragvoll

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Message 2: Was and Etwas

Date: Tue, 27 Feb 1996 18:29:50 GMT
From: "Nils Langer" <>
Subject: Was and Etwas
Dear Linguists !

I was wondering whether anybody new anything about the problem of WAS
and ETWAS in Standard German, i.e. analyses and or literature about
it. In German, the wh-pronoun (neuter) WAS can appear in-situ without
the interrogative reading as in

(1a) Peter hat was gegessen
 P. has something eaten
(1b) Peter hat eine Schokolade gegessen
 P. has a chocolate eaten

Notice though that the WAS might be seen as a phonologically
reduced version of the indefinite quantifier ETWAS as seen in (2)

(2) Peter hat etwas gegessen.
 P. has something eaten

On the other hand, of course, WAS can functions as a wh-pronoun,
corresponding very much to the English WHAT, as in

(3) Was hat Peter gegessen ?
 what has P. eaten

To my mind, traditional analyses would argue that in German, there are
two WAS's, one which is a wh-pronoun "what" and one which is a
phonologically reduced ETWAS, meaning "something". It is possible,
though (well, I think) to argue that there is only WAS and that the
interrogative interpretation must be licensed by the syntactic
position, thus explaining why wh-movt is obligatory in German (cf
wh-criterion, Rizzi 1991). If WAS remains inside VP, it will be bound
by existential closure (Diesing 1992), thus no interrogative reading
is possible. Notice also, that the phonological reduction does not
hold for the corresponding set of quantifiers in Dutch, where very
similar facts hold but where wat (was) and iets (etwas) are not
morphologically/ phonologically similar. It seems that there is
hardly any literature on this at all, so if anybody knows anything,
please tell me.


Nils Langer
Dept of German
School of Modern Languages
Old Library Building
Newcastle University
Newcastle uopn Tyne
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