query: Where are you going?

Liisa Berghäll liisa.berghall at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 3 08:43:20 UTC 2011

In Mauwake (Papuan TNG language, Papua New Guinea) the traditional greetings
with motion verbs are still used, although they are being replaced by the
“(good) morning” etc. calques from English. The form of the greetings
depends on whether the people receiving the greeting are moving or

“You are here” (sg. or pl., depending on the number of people) is said to
people who are staying somewhere instead of moving - and the reply is “I
am/we are here” ; and

“Where are you going?” or “You are going (there)” is spoken to people who
are walking towards or past the speaker - and in the answer to the first one
you either name the place or say e.g. “I’m just walking”; to the second you
reply with “(Yes), I’m going here”. “There” and “here” refer to the place
where the person is at the moment. If it is clear that the addressee is
coming to where the speaker is, the greeting is “You are coming there” and
the reply “(Yes), I’m coming here”.


Because there are so many possible forms, I’m only giving the translations
here. If you need the data as well, let me know and I’ll send it.


By the way, Jocelyne Fernandez-Vest’s comment about Finnish and some other
European languages is worth noting: what is “going” is not the person
greeted but something else: life in general, and so the question tends to be
“How?” rather than “Where?”  The person gets marked with dative in German,
and adessive in Finnish, not with nominative as a subject should be marked. 


Liisa Berghäll


From: Discussion List for ALT [mailto:LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG] On
Behalf Of M.M.Jocelyne Fernandez-Vest
Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2011 7:56 PM
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

----> 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
    This meaning has been partly borrowed in Europe by  non-Indo-European
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
    [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"
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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