Yes/No Questions

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This section will give examples of three different kinds of Yes/No questions: tag questions, requests and rhetorical questions.

Generally, Yes/No Questions in the present do not require an interrogative particle, and many exhibit no difference between a statements or a question. Consider the following examples:

  1. nepan               
    'question: `Are you asleep?'/statement: `You are sleeping' or `You are asleep'.'
  1. getlams'tw'n        
    'question: `Do you believe me?'/statement: `You believe me'.'
  1. matnagaqan  gaqia'q  
    fight       over     
    'question: `Is the fight over?'/statement: `The fight is over'.'

These demonstrate that Yes/No Questions may alternate with their statement counterpart. The difference is in the intonation pattern, which appears to have a final rising pitch during questions, and a naturally falling tone during statements. Furthermore, it seems the statement/question alternation is only available to verbs in the present and future. In the past, the speaker must use a different form of the verb to convey the statement. The examples below provide this evidence:


  • Intransitive
  1. mij-i                 
    'I eat'
  1. mij-i?                
    'do I eat?'
  • Transitive
  1. nem-i't               
    'statement: `You see him/her'.'
  1. nem-i't?              
    'question: `Do you see him/her?''


  • Intransitive
  1. mijia-p          
    'I ate'
  1. mijia-s?           
    'Did I eat?'
  • Transitive
  1. nemi't'-p        
    'You saw him/her. '
  1. nemi'-s'-p?        
    'question: `Have you seen him/her?'/*statement: `You saw him/her'.'
  • Negated transitive
  1. mu   nemiaut'-p       
    NEG  see.VTA.2SG-PST  
    'You did not see him/her.'
  1. mu   nemiau-s'-p?         
    NEG  see.VTA.2SG-Q-PST    
    'Did you not see him/her?'


  1. amalgat'-s         
    'You will dance.'
  1. amalgat'-s?        
    'Will you dance?'

Note, that even with a rising intonation such as is usual in Yes/No Questions, a speaker cannot say a statement in the past to mean a question. Thus, the next example is ungrammatical, followed by its grammatical counterpart:

  1. *nemit'p?        
    '*`Have you seen him/her?''
  1. nemi'-s'-p?        
    'question: `Have you seen him/her?'

[edit] Tag Questions

Tag questions and dubious questions exhibit a similar pattern in Mi'gmaq. In such questions, a speaker makes a statement and turns the statement into a question via an addition of an interrogative particle. This type of yes/no questions usually "requests confirmation or disconfirmation of the declarative clause (Payne 297). This is similar to the 'eh?' question particle in English. Frequently, the speaker is unsure of the answer to the question being posed. Contrast the next example with its statement counterpart:

  1. mu   telimaut-p        
    NEG  tell.VTA.2SG-PST  
    'statement: `You didn't tell him.''
  1. mu   telimaut-p        a?  
    NEG  tell.VTA.2SG-PST  Q   
    '`You didn't tell him, did you?''

It is worth noting that in tag questions, although the verb is in the past, it is not compatible with the morpheme 's' found in the forms mentioned above--as in example (13), for instance.

  1. mu   telimau-s'-p?         
    NEG  tell.VTA-2SG-Q-PST    
    'Did you not tell him?'
  1. *mu  telimau-s'-p        a?  
    NEG  tell.VTA-2SG-Q-PST  Q   
    'You did not tell him, right? '

I suspect that this is because the 's' morpheme is actually an interrogative marker that differentiates declaratives from interrogatives for all verbs in the past. Thus, it would make sense for 's' not to be compatible with the tag interrogative 'a' as there is already a question particle present. These are some more examples of tag questions:

  1. mu   tle'iaw-in               tett   a?  
    NEG  belong.VAI-2SG.IND.PRES  place  Q   
    'You're not from here, are you?'
  1. eli-en               a?  
    go.VAI-2SG.IND.PRES  Q   
    'You're going, right?'

Similarly to the Canadian English `eh', this question particle cannot appear clause-initially such as in the following example:

  1. *A  eli-en?              
    Q   go.VAI-2SG.IND.PRES  
    'You're going, right? (intended)'

Our speaker notes that this particle is placed at the end as it is used in situations where confirmation or agreement is needed. The question is, therefore, more of a reassurance, rather than an information question.

[edit] Requests

In Mi'gmaq, formulation of requests is the same as formulation of a declarative. However, the preverb 'Gisi-' is added to mark the "request" (Preverbs for further discussion). Essentially, requests are formed by the speaker asking if the listener is able to perform a specific action, although meaning-wise it is something more of a polite command or request of compliance; e.g. when a speaker says, ``Can you close the window?" the meaning is closer to ``I am asking you to please close the window" rather than ``Are you physically able to close the window?".

In such cases of requests, it appears that the 's' morpheme we saw previously is not marking an interrogative, but rather the future tense. This may be acting as a subjunctive marker, indicating a state of irreality. For more on mood, please visit the Tense, Mood, and Aspect pages. Furthermore, the constituents in requests exhibit free word order. Compare example (27) and (28)


  1. Igta'tu-'n              tuop'ti  
    close.VTI-2SG.IND.PRES  window   
    'You are closing the window.'
  1. Wejua'tu-in             wi'gatign.  
    bring.VTA-2SG.IND.PRES  book        
    'You are bringing me the book'


It is useful to note that as a contrast to Yes/No Questions, requests don't need to have a rising intonation. Our informant suggests that this may tie back into the issue of requests being more of polite commands than actual questions. Furthermore, formulating requests with a rising intonation does not sound natural, because a native speaker would not do so.

  1. Gis-igtatt-s               tuop'ti?  window      
    'Can/could you close the window?'
  1. Tuop'ti  gis-igtatt-s?                
    'Can/could you close the window?'
  1. Gis-jugwatiwit-'s                              wi'gatign?  book?       
    'Can/could you bring me the book?'
  1. Gis-tlimit-'s             tali-emg            Listuguj?  how-in.what.manner  Listuguj   
    'Can/could you tell me how to get to Listuguj?'

To clarify, the suffix 'mg', which can appear as 'emg, 'amg', or 'omg', signifies the way people do things, or the manner in which things are done. This often includes gatherings and activities done in a group setting (e.g. celebrations, holidays, etc.). The following examples are borrowed words from French "Happy New Year"--"Bonne Année"--literally meaning 'the manner in which New Year's is celebrated' and ``Christmas"--"Noël":

  1. punan-emg                
    'New Year's day'
  1. nuel-omg                  

It is unclear whether these can be used to modify verbs (adverbs). However, it is possible to say:

  1. enmi-a-p              ugjit  punan-emg                  
    go.home.VAI-1SG-PAST  for    new.year-in.what.manner    
    'I went home for New Year's day'

In any case, oftentimes when asking 'how' something is done, the suffix 'mg' will be used.

[edit] Rhetorical Questions

Rhetorical questions are possible in Mi'gmaq. It appears that they do not exhibit any special marking, nor do they have a question particle. These questions can be used rhetorically, as well as a Yes/No or regular questions.

  1. elue'wien?          
    'question: 'Are you crazy?!'/statement: 'You are crazy.''
  1. wen  geitoq?            
    who  know.VAI.3SG-PRES  
    'Who knows?'

`Wen geitoq?' cannot be used as a statement. The speaker notes that native speakers are more likely to use the negative statement`Mowen geituq', or`Nobody knows', as the equivalence of the Rhetorical Question in English `Who knows?'.

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