re interrogative verbs + interrogative relators + indefinite ordinals

claude hagege claude.hagege at FREE.FR
Fri Mar 23 11:45:04 UTC 2001

   To come back to Frans's questions (15 Febr.) about interrogative (pro-)verbs, 
       1) If not widespread throughout the world, they are by no means infrequent. To the examples already mentioned, and coming from such diverse "families" as African, Australian or Austronesian, I would add one more Austronesian language, and also many Amerindian languages. The Austronesian language is Palauan, which has an interrogative pro-verb mekera "to (do) what" (Hagège, La langue palau, Une curiosité typologique, München, Wilhelm Fink, 1986, 46). From among the many Amerindian languages in which interrogative pro-verbs are found, let me mention only Sliammon Comox (Salishan, British Columbia), in which we have sentences like 

tetm-cep (doingwhat-youPL) "what are you people doing?" (Hagège, Le comox lhaamen de Colombie britannique, Amerindia, n° spécial, Paris, AEA, 1981, 152-156).

 These are some of the cases which occur to me now, pending other data from my more recent fieldworks. Concerning Mandarin ganma, cited in Ultan 1978, 229 (not gannma, as is written there), I don't think it can be considered to be an interrogative verb:  it cannot appear without being followed by an other verb, and it means "doing what and then V?", or is simply an equivalent of weishenme "why?".

      2) Depending on the language, the interrogative verb may or may not be a verbal use of an interrogative word which can appear as another category and with  functions other than predicate. The famous ano of Tagalog, cited by David, is, I think, well-known to Austronesists for being very versatile. It may serve as the interrogative substitute, as well, of a noun, an adjective, a ma-attributive, or a verb. But in Palauan and in Comox, the interrogative verbs function exclusively as such, as far as I can judge. And one, at least, of these languages, i.e. Palauan, has a robust N-V distinction.

       3) Tagalog ano, when used as a verb, can be intransitive ("be what?"), transitive ("do what?"), ditransitive ("do what to X?"), passive-causative ("be caused to be, do, etc. what?"), etc., with all the affixing morphology wich is characteristic of many Austronesian verb systems.

       4) "being what?", "doing what?", "saying what?", but also other meanings and grammatical relationships are found among pro-verbs of various languages. I don't know of a "perceiving what?" pro-verb.

   Speaking of interrogative words, I have a question : does anyone know languages having interrogative relators? If it were a preposition, for instance, it would be, representing the interrogative relator as wh-ip (ip = interrogative preposition), something like

    he worked wh-ip John?, 
where  wh-ip means "for, or with, or because of, etc."

Claude Hagège
claude.hagege at
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