[Lingtyp] interrogative verbal paradigms

Peter Arkadiev peterarkadiev at yandex.ru
Sat Oct 14 19:58:33 UTC 2017

Dear typologists,

in Abkhaz and Abaza, two closely related Northwest Caucasian languages, content questions (a.k.a. wh-questions) can be encoded by verbal morphology alone, without any separate interrogative words (see Hewitt 1979a: 10-23 for a description for Abkhaz). This is achieved by adding an appropriate interrogative suffix or prefix to an appropriate relative verbal form (on relativization in Abkhaz, see Hewitt 1979b; on Abaza, see O'Herin 2002, chapter 8). Cf. the following three characteristic examples from Abaza (my own fieldwork data):

(1) j-ʕa-ḳa-ŝá-ja?  rel.abs-dir-loc-fall-what 'What fell?'

(2) w-ʕa-z-rə-há-da?  2sg.m.abs-dir-rel.erg-caus-fear-who 'Who frightened you?'

(3) w-ʔa-bá-nχa-wa? 2sg.m.abs-rel.loc-qadv-work-ipfv 'Where do you work?'

-ja and -da are interrogative suffixes with non-human resp. human reference (conspicuously featuring the j- and d- prefixes, which index non-human resp. human 3rd person singular absolutive arguments), while -ba- is an interrogative prefix for adverbial questions. Relativization is expressed by means of prefixes that indicate the role of the relativized or questioned element. This looks pretty much similar to a familiar (pseudo-)cleft strategy of forming content questions (e.g. Who is it who frightened you?). However, there are no genuine interrogative pronouns in these languages; those elements that are described as such are in fact just interrogative verbal forms of the type just described. The interrogative elements in Abaza and Abkhaz do not look cognate with the interrogative words attested in the other languages of the family.
I am wondering whether anything of this kind is attested in any other languages. I have looked at several reference works on questions (e.g. Siemund's article in HSK on typology and universals) and did not find there any mention of the Abkhaz pattern, neither is it mentioned in WALS. I would be grateful for any suggestions. 

Thanks in advance and best regards,


Peter Arkadiev, PhD
Institute of Slavic Studies
Russian Academy of Sciences
Leninsky prospekt 32-A 119991 Moscow
peterarkadiev at yandex.ru

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