conditionals & polar interrogatives

Daan Van den Nest Daan.VandenNest at UGENT.BE
Fri May 13 12:18:42 UTC 2005

Dear LingTyp members,

I wonder whether you could give me information on formal similarities between
conditionals and interrogatives in the languages of the world. It is well-known
that there are conditional constructions in some languages whose protasis has
the same marking or internal structure as (polar) interrogatives, as in the
following examples:

-Hua (Haiman 1978)
(1a) interrogative	Esive?	“Will he come?”
(1b) conditional	E	-si -ve	        baigu		-e
			come	3sg.FUT	INT	will-stay	1sg.
			“If he will come, I will stay.”
(2a) interrogative	Scheint die Sonne? “Does the sun shine? / Is the sun
(2b) conditional	Scheint    die  Sonne,(so/dann)	gehen wir 	baden.
			shine.INFL the	sun,   so/then	go    we	bath
			“If the sun shines / is shining, (then) we go for a

The aim of my current research is to find as many languages as possible that
have grammaticalized conditionals with interrogative marking (regardless of
whether the marker is a particle as in Hua, a word-order pattern as in German,
etc.), and hopefully to identify some relevant genetic, areal or typological
patterns. The languages or language families mentioned in the literature of
which I am aware amount to the following list:
-Portugese, French (Romance)
-Russian, Polish (Slavic; Russian jesli 'if' < jest 'it is' + li 'INT')
-Serbo-Croat (Slavic)
-Hungarian, Vogul (Uralic)
-Turkish (Altaic)
-Hua (Papuan)
-Tzotzil (Mayan)

I have also looked at grammars of some 90 non-Indo-European languages, but found
nothing. This may reflect an areal or genetic bias but may just as well be due
to the fact that interrogative marking in conditionals often seems to be a
colloquial alternative to other, specialized conditional marking and may
therefore fail to be included in the grammars.
Now, my questions are the following:
(a) Is the above list correct? As to Hungarian, for instance, a native speaker
informant has denied the existance of interrogative-like conditionals, contrary
to what is claimed in the literature.
(b) Are you aware of any other languages that have grammaticalized conditionals
marked like interrogatives? Could you give me examples, preferably of an
interrogative and a conditional, and perhaps even references? Can these
constructions be used for all sorts of conditional relationships or only for
some? (e.g. only for non-realis relationships, or only in the deontic, epistemic
or illocutionary linkage domain as described by Eve Sweetser?)
(c) Are you aware of any typological parameters that determine whether
interrogatives / interrogative markers are grammaticalized as conditionals /
conditional markers?

Thank you in advance and kind regards
Daan Van den Nest (Ghent University, Belgium)


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