re interrogative verbs + interrogative relators + indefiniteordinals
dryer at ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU
Wed Mar 28 20:31:24 UTC 2001
In response to David Gil:
>>But let me try and salvage something of the intuition behind the
>>conjecture. In response to a question such as "Which book did you
>>read?" you could answer "This book" (thereby seemingly replacing
>>"which" with "this"), but also "War and Peace", or "The book that John
>>gave me yesterday", and so forth.
>>So perhaps what licenses "which" in English is that the set of possible
>>responses forms an open class.
This response of David's is a reasonable one and one that I anticipated.
>>And likewise for "how many", even in
>>languages that have a finite and small set of lexical quantifiers.
But I DON'T think that this case is analogous to the preceding one. While
any expression denoting a book is an appropriate response to a "which book"
question, the only appropriate responses to "how many books" is a numeric
expression (or a numeric expression followed by the word for "books"),
which in a language with a finite number of numeric expressions will be a
finite number of responses. (It is true that in English a possible
response might be something like "more than you could possibly imagine" and
there is no limit to the set of responses of this sort, but I'm not sure
how common this is, and it's not clear that there are not always an
unlimited number of possible answers of this sort to any conceivable
--On Wed, Mar 28, 2001 9:44 PM +0200 David Gil <gil at EVA.MPG.DE> wrote:
> Matthew's comments on my rather loosely formulated conjecture are well
>> Regarding David Gil's conjecture
>> (4) Conjecture: question words can "ask about" items belonging to major
>> (or open) syntactic categories, but not minor (or closed) ones.
>> I can anticipate various responses to the following, but arguably "which"
>> is English is an exception, since it is a determiner, a closed class.
>> Note that one must not confuse an interrogative meaning "which" from one
>> meaning "what sort of", which English lacks a single word for. I suspect
>> that there are languages in which there is a word meaning "what sort of"
>> that belongs to a closed class of adjectives, but I know of no example.
>> Also, in many languages, numerals are arguably a closed class, but I
>> believe that many such languages have a word for "how many".
> But let me try and salvage something of the intuition behind the
> conjecture. In response to a question such as "Which book did you
> read?" you could answer "This book" (thereby seemingly replacing
> "which" with "this"), but also "War and Peace", or "The book that John
> gave me yesterday", and so forth.
> So perhaps what licenses "which" in English is that the set of possible
> responses forms an open class. And likewise for "how many", even in
> languages that have a finite and small set of lexical quantifiers.
> By analogy, I would not rule out the possibility of an interrogative
> preposition whose answers, say, could range over a potentially open set
> of spatial or temporal relationships. (So if such creatures really
> don't exist, that would need further explanation.) But I would exclude
> the possibility of an interrogative preposition whose well-formed
> answers could only range over a closed set of prepositions such as is
> characteristic of English and many other languages.
> In other words, what might be relevant is not the syntactic category of
> the interrogative expression itself, but the range (either syntactic or
> more likely semantic) of its possible answers.
> Maybe this gets us a step closer to the truth :-)
> David Gil
> Department of Linguistics
> Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
> Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
> Telephone: 49-341-9952321
> Fax: 49-341-9952119
> Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
> Webpage: http://monolith.eva.mpg.de/~gil/
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