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Show full table of contents Interrogative personal pronouns

The +human pronoun wie'who' and -human pronoun wat'what' can be considered the interrogative counterparts of the third person personal pronouns. The examples in (328) show that the two interrogative pronouns can be used both as a subject and as an object.

Example 328
a. Wie heeft hem geslagen?
  who  has  him  hit
  'Who hit him?'
a'. Wat ligt daar?
  what  lies  there
  'What is lying there?'
b. Wie heeft hij geslagen?
  who  has  he  hit
  'Who did he hit?'
b'. Wat heb je gekocht?
  what  have  you  bought
  'What did you buy?'

If the pronoun is part of a PP, the behavior of the two pronouns diverges: whereas wie can readily occur as the complement of a preposition, wat behaves like the referential personal pronoun het'it' in that it triggers R-pronominalization. Most likely, this is related to the semantic distinction with respect to the feature ±human.

Example 329
a. Op wie wacht je?
  for who  wait  you
  'For whom are you waiting?'
b. *? Op wat wacht je?
  for what  wait  you
b'. Waar wacht je op?
  where  wait  you  for
  'What are you waiting for?'

The primeless examples in (330) show that wie and wat can also function as nominal predicates in copular constructions. This is, however, not possible in the vinden construction, as is shown in the primed examples.

Example 330
a. Wie is hij?
  who is he
a'. * Wie vind je hem?
  who  consider  you  him
b. Wat wil je later worden?
  what  want  you  later be
  'What do you want to be later?'
b'. ?? Wat vind je hem, een dwaas of een genie?
  who  consider  you  him  a fool  or  a genius

Note that we do find examples such as (331), but this case is rather special in that wat seems to question a property: at least, a typical answer to this question would involve an adjectival predicate and not a nominal one. Another special use of wat is illustrated in (331b), where it questions not an argument or a predicate, but a phrase, which is obligatorily present but behaves in various respects like an adjunct, for which reason it is often considered a quasi-argument of the verb; cf. Rizzi (1990).

Example 331
a. Wat vind je van hem? Hij is aardig.
  what  consider  you  of him  he is nice
  'What do you think of him? Heʼs nice.'
b. Wat weeg je? 65 kilo.
  what  weigh  you  65 kilos
  'What do you weigh? 65 kilos.'

Finally, note that the earlier mentioned restriction that wat cannot occur as the complement of a PP does not hold in echo-questions like (332a), in which the question word is stressed. In echo-questions contexts wat can also be used to as a request to repeat/clarify an earlier utterance; example (332b) shows that in this case wat sometimes alternates with the form watte.

Example 332
a. Je wacht op wat?
  you  wait  for what
  'Youʼre waiting for what?'
b. Ik zal de hond maar eens schoppen. wat/watte?
  will  the dog  prt.  prt.  kick  what
  'I think Iʼll kick the dog. I beg your pardon?'

      The examples in (333) show that the interrogative pronouns are formally third person: this is clear from the form of the finite verb and from the fact that the third person possessive pronoun zijn'his' can take the interrogative pronoun as its antecedent.

Example 333
a. Wiei heeft3sg zijni auto voor de deur gezet?
  who  has  his car  in.front.of the door  put
  'Who has put his car in front of the door?'
b. Wati heeft3sg Jan uit zijni doos gehaald?
  what  has  Jan  out.of his box  taken
  'What did Jan take out of its box?'

The two pronouns differ, however, with respect to number: the form of the finite verb in (334a) shows that, formally, the +human pronoun wie can be either singular or plural; the fact that the -human pronoun wat in (334b) is only compatible with the singular form of the finite verb shows that, formally, it is singular. This does not imply that it cannot be used to question more than one thing: an answer to (334b) can easily involve a list of objects. The fact that the quantifier allemaal can be used in (334b) also indicates that wat can be semantically plural; cf. Zij zijn allemaal ziek'they are all ill' versus *Hij is allemaal ziek'He is all ill'.

Example 334
a. Wie is/zijn er vertrokken?
  who  is/are  there  left
  'Who has/have left?'
b. Wat ligt/*liggen er (allemaal) in de la?
  what lies/lie  there   all  in the drawer
  'What is lying in the drawer?'

Example (335a) shows that using the quantifier allemaal may give rise to a marked result if the +human pronoun wie triggers singular agreement on the verb. It is, however, not hard to find fully acceptable cases like these on the internet. Singular agreement can, for instance, regularly be found with the verb komen'to come' in (335a'). Perhaps this is related to the fact that this verb may take a secondary predicative in the form of a PP, given that copular constructions like (335b&b') are also clear exceptions to the general tendency to avoid singular agreement in the presence of allemaal.

Example 335
a. Wie zijn/??is er allemaal vertrokken?
  who are/is  there  all  left
a'. Wie komt/komen er allemaal (naar/uit ...)?
  who comes/come there  all   to/from
b. Wie is/zijn er allemaal ziek?
  who is/are  there  all  ill
b'. Wie is/zijn er allemaal lid?
  who is/are  there  all  member

      The fact that the examples in (334) and (335), in which the pronoun functions as the subject of the clause, contain the expletive er'there' shows that the interrogative pronouns are indefinite: if the expletive is dropped, the result is unacceptable, unless some presuppositional constituent is present; cf. (328a) and (333a).

Example 336
a. Wie is/zijn *(er) vertrokken?
b. Wat ligt *(er) in de la?

      The examples in (337) show that the pronouns wie and wat can be modified by elements like dan ook or om het even. However, this results in the loss of their interrogative force: the meaning of these phrases comes close to English formations with any. Perhaps this is not so surprising for wat, given that we will see in the Section that this pronoun can also be used as a quantificational personal pronoun, but it is for wie, which lacks this option.

Example 337
a. Dit kan door wie dan ook/om het even wie gedaan zijn.
  this  can  by  anyone/anyone  done  be
  'This could be done by anyone.'
b. Je kan hem om het even wat geven.
  you  can him  anything  give

Interrogative personal pronouns do not readily allow other forms of modification. The examples in (338) involving postmodification, for example, are marginal at best.

Example 338
a. ?? Wie bij de deur is jouw vader?
  who near the door  is your father
a'. ?? Wie daar is je vader?
  who there  is your father
b. ?? Wie die hier gisteren was is vandaag naar Rome vertrokken?
  who  that  here  yesterday  was  is today  to Rome  left
  'Who that was here yesterday has left for Rome today?'
  • Rizzi, Luigi1990Relativized minimalityLinguistic Inquiry MonographCambridge, MA/LondonMIT Press
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