Information Questions

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Information questions in Mi'gmaq do not seem to display any unusual changes. Word order, however, does play a particularly important role. As in English, it is typical for question words in Mi'gmaq to appear at the beginning of the interrogative clause. In fact, in order to form an information question, the question word must always be initial such as in the following examples:

  1. Goqwei  peguatelmu-s'-p?        
    what    purchase.VTI.2SG-Q-PST  
    'What did you purchase?'
  1. Goqwei  nemitu-s'-p?     
    What    see.VTA.2-Q-PST  
    'What did you see?'

Moreover, certain changes in word order result in changes in meaning. Contrasted to example (2), placing the question word after the verb results in the following meaning:

  1. Nemitu-s'-p      goqwei  
    see.VTA.2-Q-PST  what    
    'Did you see anything?'

This example displays that placing the wh-word elsewhere in the sentence results in it taking on the role of a relative pronoun. Below, (4) is another example demonstrating this. Examples (5)-(7) show how the meaning changes when constituents are moved around:

  1. Peguatelg-'s  wen  goqwei  
    buy.VTI.3-Q   who  what    
    'Did anyone buy anything?'
  1. Goqwei  wen  peguatelg-'s  
    what    who  buy.VTI.3-Q   
    'What did someone buy?'
  1. Wen  peguatelg-'s  goqwei  
    who  buy.VTI.3-Q   what    
    'Did anyone buy anything?'
  1. Wen  goqwei  peguatelg-'s  
    who  what    buy.VTI.3-Q   
    'Who bought something? (Who bought what? '
    Context: at a party there are a bunch of gifts on a table, and someone points to it and says `Who bought what?')

You may find further discussion on the interaction between word order, indefinite pronouns, and question words in the section titled Indefinite Pronouns.

[edit] Echo Questions

An echo question is a type of information question in which the speaker repeats--echoes--a part of or all of what was previously uttered. In doing so, s/he replaces the word that was misheard with a wh-word in its original position (in-situ). Here is a simple example of an echo question:

A: John bought a car yesterday. 
B: John bought what yesterday?

Oftentimes echo questions are used when the 'echoer' did not hear properly or understand what was said. However, echo questions may also be used to express incredulity at the statement heard, such as in:

A: Mary got a tattoo.
B: Mary did WHAT?!

Generally, echo questions are not possible in Mi'gmaq. Our speaker notes that it is difficult to place a "wh-word" in the middle of a sentence. However, it appears that similar question constructions are possible.

Consider the following situation. You and I are speaking about a mutual friend of ours and I ask how he is doing. You respond with,

B: I don't know. I used to see him at the store all the time.

I don't quite hear what you say, so I ask:

A: You used to see him where all the time?

In Mi'gmaq, it would be ungrammatical for me to say this as so:

  1. *tami  tett   etl-nemis'-p?                       
    what   place  in.the.process.of-see.VTA.2SG-PAST  
    'You saw him where all the time?'

However, it is possible to say the following:

  1. tami   tett   i-nemis'-p?              
    which  place  usually-see.VTA.2SG-PST  
    'Where did you usually see him/her?'

Please note, however, that it is not possible to say:

  1. *i-nemis'-p              tami   tett   
    usually-see.VTA.2SG-PST  which  place  
    'Where did you usually see him/her? (intended)'


The contrast between (8) and (9) is possibly explained by the use of the preverb 'i-' which seems to act as an atelic, or imperfect, marker signaling an ongoing action. As previously mentioned, for discussion on preverbs please see the Preverbs page.

[edit] Embedded Questions

Embedded questions are questions that are found within another statement or question. An example in English would be:

Question: What time is it?
Embedded Question: Can you tell me what time it is?

Note that the order of the constituents in the embedded clause switches from "what time is it" to "what time it is". Evidentially, embedding of questions in Mi'gmaq works the same way except the constituent order in the embedded clause need not switch:

  1. Tami   eteg     wi'gatign?  
    where  present  book        
    'Where is the book?'
  1. Geitun             tami   eteg     wi'gatign?  
    know.VAI.2SG-PRES  where  present  book        
    'Do you know where the book is?'
  1. Wen  na?  
    who  is   
    'Who is s/he?'
  1. Gis-tlimitis               wen  na?  
    able.to-tell.VTA.2SG-PRES  who  is   
    'Can/could you tell me who s/he is?'

The next example is interesting for a few reasons. 'Ajiet' on its own means 's/he advances'. Since the concept of time in Mi'gmaq is very fluid, instead of saying "What time is it?" people say something closer to "Do you know how many hours have advanced/passed?" As previously mentioned, embedded questions don't change the order of their constituents. However, it appears the wh-element can only be in a certain position and word order is actually rigid. This may be due to its position between the two verbs 'geitu' and 'ajiet'. Generally a wh-word is sensitive in word order with respect to the verb; when it appears before a verb it has a more specific interpretation--placing `who' before a verb in Mi'gmaq yields the meaning `someone'. In contrast, when the wh-word appears after a verb it is interpreted as an indefinite; so, placing `who' after a verb in Mi'gmaq yields the meaning 'anyone'. Thus, in this case, it may be that the only position 'ta'n' can have is between the two verb phrases. A lengthier discussion on the interaction between word order is in the following section. More information can also be found on the Word Order page.

  1. tes       ajiet             
    how.many  advance.3SG-PRES  
    'What time is it?'
  1. Geitu              ta'n  tes       ajiet?            
    know.VAI.2SG-PRES  what  how.many  advance.3SG-PRES  
    'Do you know what time it is?'
  1. *Geitu             ajiet             ta'n  tes?        
    know.VAI.2SG-PRES  advance.3SG-PRES  what  how.many    
    'Do you know what time it is?'
  1. *Ta'n  geitu              tes       ajiet?            
    what   know.VAI.2SG-PRES  how.many  advance.3SG-PRES  
    'Do you know what time it is?'
  1. *Ta'n  tes       geitu              ajiet?            
    what   how.many  know.VAI.2SG-PRES  advance.3SG-PRES  
    'Do you know what time it is?'

[edit] Pied-Piping

Pied-piping refers to a process when material beside a question word, including the question word, is fronted or extracted, leaving behind a "gap" (Payne 303). This is because during such a movement the wh-word takes one or more other constituents with it. An example in English would be:

Mary likes some boy.
Which boy does Mary like [   ]?
*Which does Mary like boy?  
  1. Gesatg             wi'gatign  
    like.VTI.3SG-PRES  book       
    'S/he likes a book.'

Mi'gmaq generally has free word order, which makes it a non-configurational language (Payne 74). Due to this, it appears that pied-piping is preferred in Mi'gmaq, but it is not ungrammatical if it does not happen. Our speaker notes that she is more likely to say

  1. Tegen  wi'gatign  gesatg?              
    which  book       like.VTI.3SG-PRES    
    'Which book does s/he like?'

than

  1. Tegen  gesatg             wi'gatign?  
    which  like.VTI.3SG-PRES  book        
    'Which book does s/he like?'

Here it is of interest to compare discontinuous constituents in general. By this, we mean if we say "Mary likes the green book", is it preferred to have "green" and "book" next to each other?

  1. Mali  gesat-g       wi'gatign  stoqon-amu'g    
    Mary  like.VTI.3SG  book       evergreen-look  
    'Mary likes the green book'

As it turns out, for the reading `Mary likes the green book' it is indeed preferred that "wi'gatign" and "stoqonamu'g" are placed next to each other (order could also be `stoqonamu'g wi'gatign'). If `book' and `green' are separated, the statements yield slightly different meanings:

  1. Mali  wi'gatign  gesat-g       stoqon-amu'g    
    Mary  book       like.VTI.3SG  evergreen-look  
    'Mary likes the book that is green.'

In the example above, our informant notes that it is almost like we are emphasizing the fact that the book happens to be green, rather than another color. The same interpretation goes for the example below as well:

  1. wi'gatign  Mali  gesat-g       stoqon-amu'g    
    book       Mary  like.VTI.3SG  evergreen-look  
    'Mary likes the book that is green.'
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