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Summary Details


Query:   Wh-questions in Arabic
Author:  O L Zavitnevich
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Syntax

Language Family:   Arabic

Summary:   For Query: Linguist 12.1699

Earlier this month I posted a question about the formation of wh-questions
in Arabic and Arabic dialects. I am very grateful to all who
replied to my queiry. Here is the summary of the information that I got:

In Modern Standard Arabic the question word appears sentence initially
(to the right of the sentence):
"qara?a al-waladu kitaaban" (The boy read a book)

mann (who) qara?a kitaaban?
limaaDa (why) qara?a al-waladu kitaaban?
maaDa (what) qara?a al-waladu?
?ayna (where) qara?a al-waladu kitaaban?

However, constructions of the following type is possible
qara?a kitaaban mann (who)?
qara?a al-waladu maaDa (what)?,

"qara?a al-waladu maaDa (what)"? may be used in scholastic settings to
elicit answers from pupils.

In Tunisian Arabic, the sub-dialect of Sfax, the examples from MSA become
as follows

(i) shkun (who) qara ktaab? (who read a book?)
(ii) ?alash (why) qara iT-Tfil ktaab? (why did the boy read a book?)
(iii) ?ish (what) qara iT-Tfil? (what did the boy read?)
(iv) wiin/fiin qara iT-Tfil l-ktaab? (where did the boy read the book?)

The position of a wh-phrase affects the meaning of a sentence, thus:
iT-Tfil qara ktaab shkun (who) ? (whose book did the boy read?)

the meaning changes into asking about the genetive.

In North African Arabic (Algerian dialect) wh-question-phrases
always have to be topicalized, and thus appear sentence-initially.

Moroccan Arabic is similar English. Wh in-situ is possible only in Echo
questions.

Egyptian Arabic mainly uses wh-in-situ strategy, clause-initial
position is not very common only in idiomatic expression like "eh da"
`what is this supposed to be?' (angrily) instead of normal "da eh" `what
is this?'

Other sourses:

Shalom Lappin and David Johnson, Local Constraints vs Economy, CSLI
Monographs in Linguistics Series, CSLI, Stanford, CA, 1999, contains an
extensive discussion of wh-questions in Iraqi Arabic.

Modes of Intorregation, by Lina Choueiri and Joseph Aoun in the
semitic archives hosted by the ling dept at USC on Lebanese Arabic
http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/linguistics/semitic

Thanks

Olga Zavitnevich
Cambridge University

LL Issue: 12.1825
Date Posted: 16-Jul-2001
Original Query: Read original query


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