Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

"What Became of Waring?" Questioning the Predicator in English. (Linguistics)

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

"What Became of Waring?" Questioning the Predicator in English. (Linguistics)

Article excerpt

1. An introduction to proxy question words

After a brief discussion of some of the names that have been used to differentiate the "two kinds of question" illustrated in (1):

(1) a. Did he say that?
    b. What did he say?

Jespersen (1924: 302-305) goes on to make a terminological suggestion of his own: he distinguishes them as "nexus-questions" (1a) vs. "x-questions" (1b). I am not concerned here with the former. However, a consideration of Jespersen's proposed name for the latter, together with the earlier suggestions concerning their proper naming, makes a good starting point for my concerns here. (1)

The generality of Jespersen's "x" -- "for the unknown" (1924: 303) -- is in a sense appropriate given the variety of sentence parts that can be questioned as to their content. (2) gives a selection of these:

(2) a. Who said that?
    b. Who(m) did he say that to?
    c. Where is the car?
    d. Where did Mary put it?
    e. When did Bill say that?
    f. What did Jeff become?
    g. What is Jo like?
    h. What did Nigel do?
    i. What did Nigel do to the TV?
    j. What happened to the TV?
    k. What happened?

(2a-b), like (1b), are questions that invite the supplying of a nominal label for the "unknown", but (2c-d) anticipate a prepositional or adverbial complement (there, in the garage), and (2e) an adjunct (on Tuesday, yesterday), while the remainder of (2) invite, whatever else, specification of a predicative element of some sort. Thus, (2f) is most appropriately answered with a predicative nominal (an architect), and (2g) with a predicative adjectival (morose); (h) is satisfied by specification of a verbal plus complements and possibly adjuncts, if any (left, went to London, watched a movie, returned later), while (2i-j) already have one of the complements specified in the question, and (k) invites an entire predication in answer. Not all of these can be answered simply by a sentence fragment of the dimension of the questioned part; the new information provided may not correspond to a constituent (as with He dismantled it as an answer to (2i) or John sat on it as an answer to (2j)). This variety in possible qu estion and response fits relatively well with Jespersen's term "x-question" and also perhaps with some of the other terms he discusses ("detail question", for instance).

But another, more traditional terminology recognises an important limitation on the formation of such questions. In English and many languages -- and perhaps universally (as the unmarked situation, at least) -- the question word is (substituted for a) nominal or adverbial; (1b) and (2) are thus for some scholars "pronominal questions", with the adverbials regarded as inflected forms of pronouns, as it were, instances of casus adverbiales. This observation allows us to make more precise an important distinction between the questions of (lb)/(2a-e) and (2f-k), or rather between the responses they invite. The former are what I shall call argument questions, vs. the predicator questions illustrated by the latter. As arguments I include both participants (subject and complements of the predicator) and circumstantials (adjuncts -- (2f)), and disregard whether the response to the question word typically involves an NP (as with (2a)) or a PP/adverb (as with (2d)); the response involves identification of an argument o f the predicator, invoked by the pronominal argument of the question, and the shape of the pronominal (who, whom, what, where, when) reflects different aspects of the role of the questioned argument. We should note that each of these question words can be replaced by a construction involving a "transitive" question word (Which witness ...? At what time...? etc.); but I am not concerned further here with such distinctions.

With predicator questions (2f-k) the question word, always what, "replaces" the subject of or a complement of the predicator, but the response is a predicator: nominal (2f), adjectival (2g), or involving a verb and (particularly in their case) possible arguments (the rest). …

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