Knock! Knock! Who's there?

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Sun Nov 15 23:49:04 UTC 1998

If you can spare just a brief moment, and are familiar with one or more
interesting languages, I'd be grateful if you would anwer the following
very short query.

Imagine you're at home, and somebody knocks on the door.  What do you
call out?

In English, two common responses are:

(1) Who's there?
(2) Who it is?

Similarly, in Indonesian, you can respond:

(3) Siapa disana?
    who there
(4)  Siapa itu?
    who that

BUT, and this is what I'm interested in, in Indonesian you can ALSO
respond simply with the bare interrogative:

(5) Siapa?

My question (a simple yes/know question) is:

In "your" language(s), is it possible to respond with the bare
interrogative form, as in Indonesian (5)?  (Ie. without any additional
locative, demonstrative or copula.)

Just a YES or a NO would be fine, plus the name of your language(s).

Although I'm very eager to find examples of languages for which the
answer is YES, I would also greatly appreciate a lot of NO answers,
which will enable me to find out how rare the construction is, and
hopefully what its typological correlates are.

(Note:  Presumably, all languages can do it with a complex construction,
with a locative and/or demonstrative and/or copula, as in (1) - (4).
This I'm not interested in.  All I'd like to know is whether your
language has the simple construction as in (5).)



Now for a somewhat more theoretical query.  What I'm interested in is,
loosely speaking, 'subject pro-drop' not with verbal predicates but
rather with nominal ones.  My impression is that many languages that
have 'subject pro-drop' for  verbal predicates do not allow it for
nominal predicates.  For example, in Hebrew, you can say _halaxti_
'go:PAST:1:SG' for 'Iwent', but not _talmid_ 'student' for 'I am a
student'.  Does anyone have any data, ideas, or bibliographical
references with regard to this?

(As you may have noticed, _Siapa_ in (5) above is an example of the type
of construction  -- 'subject pro-drop' with nominal predicate -- that
I'm talking about.)

Again, thanks.


David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 44-341-9952310
Fax: 44-341-9952119
Email: gil at

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