null WH questions

Steven Schaufele fcosw5 at MAIL.SCU.EDU.TW
Sat Oct 31 21:09:20 UTC 1998

David Gil wrote:
> On the subject of null WH questions, Steven asks ...
> > I'm wondering to what extent constructions like these are different
> > from the things one can get in very colloquial English, such as:
> >
> >       And you're going to ... ?
> >       And your name is ... ?
> >       Because ... ?
> As a native speaker of English and Hebrew, let me stick my neck out and
> try to answer this question in terms of my own introspective judgements
> as to when such constructions would be appropriate.
> For me, Steven's examples above have the following two properties:
> (a) They are *very* contextually limited, presupposing a context
> involving some conventionalized form of questioning, eg. an MC on a TV
> quiz program, or an official interrogating somebody or perhaps getting
> them to fill out a form.  Related to (a) is ...
> (b) They imply that the speaker is in a positon of power over the
> addressee.  (And hence you wouldn't use these constructions speaking to
> somebody towards whom you felt obliged to be polite or diffident.)

Well, i don't know.  Jan Anward also mentioned the following:

> The null need not be last
>	At the lunch restaurant:
>		Och du vill ha idag?
>		(And you want today)

And i have certainly heard similar remarks in American popular eateries:

		And you'll have ... ?

I didn't mention this possibility in my previous posting on this
subject, because Jan's point was that the null pronominal in his example
was not utterance-final, but i think it must be in the kind of English
usage i was describing.  However, i think it is clearly possible for a
person in a subordinate position (to the extent it's correct so to
describe the relationship between a staff member and a customer at a
dining establishment) to address someone this way.

> In summary, I think that the interesting examples that have come up in
> this thread are representative of a wide variety of very different
> construction types, distinguishable both by their formal properties and
> by their pragmatic felicity conditions.

This more general remark is certainly true!

Steven Schaufele, Ph.D., Asst. Prof. of Linguistics, English Department

Soochow University, Waishuanghsi Campus, Taipei 11102, Taiwan, ROC

(886)(02)2881-9471 ext. 6504     fcosw5 at

        ***O syntagmata linguarum liberemini humanarum!***

        ***Nihil vestris privari nisi obicibus potestis!***

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