Summary: Knock! Knock! Who's there?
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
In English, two common responses are:
(1) Who's there?
(2) Who it is?
Similarly, in Indonesian, you can respond:
(3) Siapa disana?
(4) Siapa itu?
BUT, and this is what I'm interested in, in Indonesian you can ALSO
respond simply with the bare interrogative:
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:
English, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, French, Italian
(Standard), Italian (Sicilian), Polish, Romany, Hungarian, Maltese
Lingala [Bantu, Niger Congo], Munukutuba [Bantu, Niger Congo], Sango
[Creole - Bantu, Niger-Congo]
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.
Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
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