Questions

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Interrogative clauses are structures that are primarily used to ask for information. In Mi'gmaq, they are broadly of two types: Yes/No Questions and Information Questions. Using functionality as a distinction, we can further divide these two classes. For example, Yes/No Questions may function as (a) a way to solicit information, (b) a way to request action, (c) a way to confirm an event or action, etc. (Payne 299) In principle, it does not seem that formulation of questions requires any question particle aside from the question word itself. However, as will be discussed within each of the following sections, word order and intonation play significant roles in interrogative clauses.

[edit] Question Words

Before we discuss the nature of questions in Mi'gmaq, it will be useful to look at the relationship between relative pronouns and interrogatives. Interrogatives, or question words---most frequently referred to as wh-words in English---double as relative pronouns. These act as a marker for relative clauses and, as Payne notes, refer to non-specific, non-identified entities (300). Relative clauses provide additional information about the main clause and are therefore subordinate. Thus, a relative pronouns usually joins two clauses into a single complex sentence. Here is an example of a relative clause in Mi'gmaq:

  1. nemi'-g               ta'n  wen  etl-wissugwa-t                      plamu-ewei     
    see.VTA-PRES.1SG>3SG  that  who  be.in.the.process.of-cook-PRES.3SG  salmon-POSS    
    'I see the person who is cooking salmon.'


Unlike English, whose set of question words is virtually identical to the set of relative pronouns, question words in Mi'gmaq differ considerably from their non-specific counterparts. The following is a table of question words and their corresponding relative pronouns in Mi'gmaq:

Question word Relative pronoun Translation
wen ta'n who
wenewei ta'n (ugt) whose
tal goqwei what
ta'n, ta'n tujiw ta'n when
tami ta'n where
tal gis ta'n goqwei ugjit why (explain the facts)
ugjit goqwei ta'n goqwei ugjit why (explain for what purpose; literally `for what')
tegen ta'n goqwei which
ta'sit ta's'g (some) how much/many

Our speaker explains that the difference between the two ways to ask 'why?' can be thought of as: 1) A way for the speaker to ask someone to explain a concept or fact. A hypothetical situation would be if a child were asking his/her parent why the sky is blue. S/he would use 'tal gis?' 2) A way for the speaker to ask someone to explain for what purpose; It would be reasonable for a speaker to ask 'ugjit goqwei?' in a situation where someone was looking for a specific object. It is like asking, 'To which end do you need it?' This 'why' seems to be more utility-related.

Note that 'ta'n' seems to be a generic relativizer in Mi'gmaq similar to English 'that'. It can be used to say 'that', 'which', or 'who' as demonstrated by example (1). An interesting difference between Mi'gmaq and English has to do with relative clauses with gaps. The following three examples in English are all variants of one another:

1. The man who  you met is my father.
2. The man that you met is my father.
3. The man [  ] you met is my father.

In the first and second sentence, 'who' and 'that' are used interchangeably. The third sentence exhibits a gap relative clause. In Mi'gmaq, there would only be one way to say the first two sentences:

  1. Ji'nm  ta'n      weltesga-t-'p     na  n-uj.            
    man    who/that  meet.VTA-2SG-PST  is  1SG.POSS-father  
    'The man who/that you met is my father.'

Although it is possible to say the relative clause with a gap, our speaker mentions that it is awkward and would be better if the 'ta'n' remained:

  1. #Ji'nm  weltesga-t'-p     na  n-uj.            
    man     meet.VTA-2SG-PST  is  1SG.POSS-father  
    'The man you met is my father.'

Furthermore, note that in English there is a distinction between 'who' and 'whom'. The former is used for subjects, while the latter is used for non-subjects, such as the following examples:

This is the man who helped me > He helped me; subject
This is the man whom I told you about > I told you about him; object. 
Who gave whom a book? > subject, object.

However, this distinction does not exist in Mi'gmaq. Therefore, if one wanted to ask the question 'Who gave whom a book?' one would say:

  1. Wen  iginmuas'n        igtig-l    wi'gatign?  
    who  give.VTI.3SG>4SG  other-OBV  book        
    'Who gave the other a book?'

In this case, 'igtig' picks up the obviative suffix '-l' or '-al'. For more information please visit the Obviation page. Also, please note that it is ungrammatical to say the following, which involves multiple wh-words:

  1. *Wen  iginmuas'n        wen  wi'gatign?  
    who   give.VTI.3SG>4SG  who  book        
    'Who gave whom a book?'

The use of me' (how) with wen (who) can denote 'anyone' as in a question. See example below.

  1. Me'       wen  wejg-uet?       
    question  who  toward-go3.sg?  
    'Is anyone coming?'
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