query: Where are you going?

Paolo Ramat paoram at UNIPV.IT
Fri Jun 3 08:00:59 UTC 2011

Jocelyne’s remark is right: ‘(comment) ça va ?’ is not restricted to greetings. However, this formula is  used as greeting, too, and does not obligatorily request an answer. 
Extensions of (or restrictions to ?: see Plank’s remarks)  greeting formulas should  be of interest to David. Incidentally, It. ‘(ciao,)come va?’ is the exact counterpart of  ‘ça va?’ and in most cases does not request an answer from the hearer (as Engl. ‘how do you do ?’: an answer such as ‘I don’t feel very well’  is always possible, but not compulsory; you may ignore the question and take it as bare greeting). 

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

From: M.M.Jocelyne Fernandez-Vest 
Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2011 6:55 PM
To: Paolo Ramat 
Subject: Re: query: Where are you going?

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, 



                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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