query: Where are you going?

M.M.Jocelyne Fernandez-Vest m.m.jocelyne.fernandez-vest at VJF.CNRS.FR
Thu Jun 2 16:55:56 UTC 2011

Le 02/06/11 15:45, Paolo Ramat a écrit :
> French "comment vas-tu ?" and "comment ça va?" , Germ.  "wie geht's 
> dir ?" are the most familiar cases of movement verbs used in greetings 
> (vs. Span. "còmo estàs?" [accents are not correct in e-mail characters 
> and the inverted interrogative sign is also missing] It.  "come stai?" 
> , lit. 'how do you stay?')
> ----> Right, but it does not seem to be what David is looking for, as 
> this use is not limited any more to greetings.
In modern French for instance, the verb /aller/ has by itself the 
meaning of "be in such and such a state", which is not restricted to 
greetings : one can ask "Comment allez-vous?" and get the answer "Je ne 
vais pas très bien" or, according to the register, "Ça va pas fort", 
which shows that it is not a mere formal greeting (different from "Ça 
va?", which is normally answered by a mere repetition with a falling 
intonation "Ça va.", and not by "Non, ça va pas" (verified in field 
experiments)). Besides, one can tell about a third person "Il ne va pas 
très bien", and it has no connection with a greeting.
     This meaning has been partly borrowed in Europe by  
non-Indo-European languages,
so that even in Finnish, where the polite personalized greeting does not 
use the verb /mennä/ "to go" (but rather a verb "be able to"  (/voida/) 
--/Miten voit ?  or "/have the strength to" (/jaksaa/)  -/Miten jaksat? 
"/How are you doing?), and the familiar greeting resorts to a verb of 
perception (/Mitä kuuluu ?/ "What-is-being heard?", and its idiomatic 
answer /-Ei kuulu mitään/ 'Nothing is heard", which is positive, 
although it can sound rather abrupt to non native ears,
one can also ask in a neutral unpersonal way (3rd person without a 
personal pronoun) /-Miten menee?/ "How is (it) going?", which, without a 
more precise context  ("How is it actually going with her divorce?", 
etc.), will simply mean "How are you?".
     The same is observed in Northern Sami, where younger speakers 
re-acquiring the language sometimes use the movement verb for asking 
about the addressee's health, but the only idiomatical greeting is still 
using the acoustic perception verb.
     But, in none of these languages - not even in Sami, which, being 
one of the last oral languages of Europe, is (over) reputed to be 
"exotic" -- I can think of such a question using not only the movement 
verb, but also an interrogative spatial word and requiring a spatial 
indicator from the answerer.
     [which does not exclude though that such an exchange as "Where are 
you going?" and the answer "Just walking" can be encountered among Finns 
or Sami, reluctant to questioning, but, as we say in French, that is 
"another pair of sleeves"].

     David's inquiry seems therefore to aim at a very specific type of 
greeting, and it will be interesting to hear (read) whether equivalent 
phrases are found in other parts of the world than in Southeast Asia.

> Prof.Paolo Ramat
> Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori (IUSS )
> Direttore del Centro "Lingue d'Europa: tipologia, storia e 
> sociolinguistica" (LETiSS)
> Viale Lungo Ticino Sforza 56
> 27100 Pavia
> tel. ++390382375811
> fax ++390382375899
> -----Messaggio originale----- From: David Gil
> Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2011 1:24 PM
> Subject: query: Where are you going?
> Dear all,
> One of the most common greetings in many languages of mainland and
> insular Southeast Asia is a phrase whose literal meaning is "Where are
> you going?", eg. Thai /pai nai?/, Indonesian /mau ke mana?/  Crucially,
> it is not necessarily meant to be taken literally, any more than the
> English "How do you do?", and the most appropriate response will
> typically be something vague and non-committal, such as "just walking"
> I am interested in mapping the geographical distribution of the "Where
> are you going?" greeting.  I would thus be grateful for information from
> as many languages as possible, answering the simple question:
> In language(s) that you are familiar with, is "Where are you going?" (or
> an alternative "Where are you coming from?") used as a common greeting,
> without necessarily being meant to be taken literally as an expression
> of interest in the direction of the addressee's movements?
> I am equally interested in negative data, asserting that your language
> does not have such a usage, as I am in data of a positive nature.
> In addition to confirming the presence of this greeting thoughout
> mainland and insular Southeast Asia, I am particularly interested in
> ascertaining the geographical boundaries of the greeting, to the west in
> the Indian subcontinent, to the north in China and Northeast Asia, and
> to the east and south, in New Guinea and Australia.  I am also
> interested to find out whether it occurs in other parts of the world, or
> whether it unique to Southeast Asia.  (A recent trip to Ethiopia
> suggests that it might also be found there.)
> Looking forward to your responses,
> Thanks,
> David

                 M.M.Jocelyne FERNANDEZ-VEST
                 Directrice de Recherche au C.N.R.S.
         Linguistique Générale, Ouralienne et Nordique
      CNRS-LACITO UMR 7107, Universités Paris 3&  Paris 4
             29, rue Descartes. F-75005 PARIS
                Tél.&  Fax : 33.(0)


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