Summary: Knock! Knock! Who's there?

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Sun Nov 22 21:35:10 UTC 1998

Here is an interim summary of the results of the "Knock! Knock! Who's
there?" query, which I posted last week.  But if anybody has data from
other languages, I'd still be very appreciative.

First, as a reminder, the query itself:


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.)


In the following summary, I've classified languages into two Types:

Type A (English) languages, in which you can't respond with a bare
"who", and Type B (Indonesian) languages, in which you can.  Within each
Type, I've grouped together languages that seem to form an isogloss with
respect to the phenomenon in question:

Type A:

English, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, French, Italian
(Standard), Italian (Sicilian), Polish, Romany, Hungarian, Maltese


Volga Tatar


Tok Pisin

Type B:

Lingala [Bantu, Niger Congo], Munukutuba [Bantu, Niger Congo], Sango
[Creole - Bantu, Niger-Congo]


Russian, Finnish

Arabic (Palestinian), Arabic (Lebanese)

Yukaghir, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Malay / Indonesian

Plains Cree [Algonquian]


Some clear geographical patterns emerge.  Europe is a Type A area, with
Type B at the peripheries.  One boundary separates Polish, Type A, from
Russian and Finnish, Type B.  Another boundary separates French, Type A,
from Spanish, Type B.

A note on Basque:  for Basque the opinions were split, which places it
right between French and Spanish (which is nice).  Five persons said the
bare interrogative was impossible (Type A), two said it was possible but
"rude", and one said it was possible (Type B).

Two Type B areas are East Asia and Central Africa.

On the other hand, Israel provides an example of different types living
side by side:  Hebrew (Type A) vs. Palestinian Arabic (Type B).

I'd really appreciate more data from other languages, to fill in the

As for typological correlates, I haven't found any clear ones yet.  Any

Thanks to the following persons for responding:

Gontzal Aldai, Jan Anward, John Ole Askedal, Dik Bakker, Peter Bakker,
Pier Marco Bertinetto, Arantxa Eizmendi, Elisabeth Engberg-Pedersen, Ray
Fabri, Marta Alday Garay, Lucyna Gebert, Seth Jerchower, Ms. Kannewurf,
Valeri Khabirov, Alan King, Ricardo Gomez Lopez, Bingfu Lu, Elena
Maslova, Yaron Matras, Matti Miestamo, Nadejda Moiseeva, Michael Noonan,
Miren Lourdes Oinederra, Sang-Won Peck, Waldfried Premper, Hans-Juergen
Sasse, Leon Stassen, Thomas Martin Widmann.

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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