Interrogative Indefinites in Siouan

Shannon West shanwest at
Wed Oct 18 21:47:20 UTC 2000

At 04:51 AM 2000-10-18, Bruce Ingham wrote:
>Dear Siouanists
>I am sorry for disturbing you by my previous message which was meant
>  for David.  However to make up for that I wonder if any one can
>help me on a question re the above, which I tried to find out when I
>first became interested in Lakota and am still not satisfied about,
>which is that, if indefinite items such as taku 'something', tohan
>'sometime', tuktel 'somewhere', tokiya 'some direction', tuwa
>'someone' can also serve as the question words  'what', 'when',
>'where', 'where to'  and 'who', how then do we question an
>indefinite?  ie how do we say 'have you seen something', 'will he
>arrive sometime', 'are you going somewhere' and 'have you seen
>         With taku we have a form takunl which can be used in this
>way to mean 'anything' , but what about tuwa, tuktel, tokiya and
>tohan and of course tokeske 'how' and others.

Good question, I'm curious about that myself.  I thought takuni was
'nothing' as opposed to 'anything'.  Comments on that would be
appreciated.  Perhaps though, they mean much the same thing.

>I have seen it
>suggested that this can be achieved by following them by cha so
>that tuwa cha wanlaka he could mean 'did you see anyone'.
>However many examples occur in texts where this just means 'who
>did you see?'.

This is one of the questions I'm addressing (or attempting to address, at
this point) in my thesis.  The way I've been handling it is through an
unselective binding (Nishigauchi (1990), Pesetsky (1987), Heim (1982))
relationship with a question particle.   If there is a question particle,
whether overt (as in the cases of hwo and such things) or null (as in the
question is only marked by intonation), it gives the indefinite an
interrogative interpretation.  In sentences with multiple indefinites,
there is some ambiguity.

 From Assiniboine:

tuwe                  tagu               manu?
who/someone  what/something steal

"Who stole what?"
"Who stole something?"  (this was the first thought of my consultant)
"What did someone steal?"
"Someone stole something"

>         Has anyone any answer to this or comments about other
>Siouan languages.  I know that in some Far Eastern languages
>which also have the Interrogative-indefinite type of word the
>difference between 'who did you see' and 'did you see anyone'  is
>achieved only by intonation and I can see how that could occur
>also for Lakhota.

Yes, I think Chinese does this, or something similar.   If you want
references, I'm sure I can dig them up.

>         I have seen tohanhci for 'ever' as in tohanhci ekta yai he
>'have you ever been there?' and tokiyetu cha for 'anywhere' as in
>tokiyetu ca he wanlaka he 'have you seen him anywhere?', but they
>seem to be rarely used.

Where have you seen this?  I could really use some more data on this topic,

Thanks for the questions.  You've given me some new things to look into.  :)

Shannon West

Department of Linguistics
University of Victoria
Box 3045
Victoria, B.C.
V8W 3P4
(250) 721-7421 (Grad Student's Office)

shanwest at

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