[Lingtyp] Positions of interrogative pronouns

Kilu von Prince watasenia at gmail.com
Thu Mar 26 09:47:44 UTC 2015


Dear all,

I'm forwarding a query by Gisbert Fanselow below. If you have any pertinent
information you could share, that would be highly appreciated!

Best,
Kilu


I have a query concerning languages that
a.) allow multiple questions (what did you ask when?)
and
b.) form content questions by placing the wh-pronoun at the left edge of
the clause (or at least place it to the left of its canonical position),
either optionally or obligatorily. It would not matter to me of the more
leftward placement of the wh-pronoun is accompanied by further changes
(say, clefting), or not.

Here is the question concerning these languages:

English is characterized by the so-called superiority effect: when both the
subject and the object are wh-pronouns, then only the subject, but not the
object can be placed at the left periphery of the clause

I wondered who asked what
*I wondered what who asked


German, in contrast, does not show this restriction

Ich frage mich (I wonder)
wer was fragte (who.nom what asked)
was wer fragte (what who.nom asked)

I have the impression  that the English pattern is rare, and I have several
hypothesis as to what triggers the effect we see in English. I have
extracted information on a number of languages from the literature, but the
info you can get there is so heavily biased on European languages that one
cannot draw any firm conclusions.

Therefore, information on which non-European languages follow the German
pattern, and which languages follow the English one would be much
appreciated.
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