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8.1 The functions of the interrogative pronoun

The interrogative phrase can be an argument or an adverbial. As an argument, it can have the following syntactic functions

  • Subject
  • Object to a Verb
  • Object to an Adposition
  • Possessor

As an adverbial, it can have the following usages:

  • Attributive AP
  • Adverbial of time
  • Adverbial of manner
  • Adverbial of reason
  • Adverbial of place

Various functions of the interrogative pronoun are discussed in the sections below.

[+]1. Subjects and objects

The paradigm of interrogative pronouns is sensitive to the feature <person>. Subjects and objects to V which are presupposed to be persons are questioned with the word wäl ‘who’. Subjects and objects which are presupposed to be [<-person>] are questioned with the question word wät ‘what’. There is no case or gender difference between the subject and object interrogative pronouns. Note that the situation is different and complicated for adpositional objects. On these, see: R-pronouns (9). Some examples of subject questions are given below:

Wäl skäl die in ju Underwareld noch priezje?
who shall you in the underworld yet praise
Who shall praise you in the underworld?
Wät is die Moanske, dät du an him toankst?
what is the human that you to him think
What is man, that you think of him?

Subject questions with the personal interrogative are far more numerous than object questions with the personal interrogative. Object questions tend to feature the impersonal interrogative. Some examples of object questions are given below:

Wät häbe iek in dän Hemel bute die?
what have I in the heaven outside you
What do I have in heaven except for you?
Wät häbe jie dan sjo wäild in ju Wäistene?
what have you then see wanted in the wilderness
What did you desire to see in the wilderness?

Predicate nominals can also be questioned. Furthermore, it is possible to postmodify a question word with a possessive PP which restricts the scope of the interrogative phrase. An example is given below:

Wäl fon do bee Wuchtere wol dät Kralebeend häbe?
which of the both girls wants the bead.string have
Which of the two girls wants the string of pearls?

The topical or minimal answers to Wäl? ‘who’ would be: Die! ‘He!’ Or: Hie! ‘He!’ Or: Ju! ‘She!’. Or: Do! ‘They!’. The topical answer to ‘Wät? ‘What?’ would be: Dät! ‘That!’

[+]2. Objects of adpositions

Questions targeting the object of an adposition can be made in two ways. The R-pronoun wier ‘where / what’ can be used.

Wierap teeuwe jie?
R.on wait you
What are you waiting for?
Wier däd hie dät mäd?
R did he it with
What did he do it with?

The R-pronoun can be found by itself at the beginning of the clause, as in West Frisian, or it can take the adposition along, as in German. The R interrogative tends to be reserved for non-persons. But when it functions as a relative, it can take a human antecedent. It is nowadays often found with prepositional complements which are locations, but not necessarily:

Wier skäl iek dän Kuffer waistale?
where shall I the suitcase to.put
Where shall I put the suitcase?

The more common way of targeting an adpositional complement, at least nowadays, is by having the preposition and the question word at the beginning of the clause (mäd wäl instead of wier ... mäd):

Mäd wäl skäl iek dut Lid ferglieke?
with who shall I this generation compare
With whom shall I compare this generation?
Truch wäl drieuwe jou Meestoundere ze uut?
by who drive your allies them out
By whom do your allies excorcize them?

It is unclear whether the impersonal interrogative is also used in this way (mäd wät instead of wier ... mäd).

[+]3. Possessors

Possessors can be questioned by means of the genitival form of the interrogative for persons or the doubling construction can be used:

Wäls Lound is dät?
whose land is it
Whose land is it?
Wäl sien Ku is dät?
who his cow is it
Who’s cow is it?

The genitival form is somewhat bookish, or it sounds a bit like a German interference. The doubling construction is characteristic of the spoken language in Dutch, Low German and in the Frisian languages.

[+]4. Attributive APs

According to Fort (2015), the interrogative article word wäkker ‘which’ has the following forms, but they seem to have been regularised recently, as indicated in the last row:

Table 1
Fort (1985) wäkker wäkke wäkker wäkke
regularised wäkker (wäkken) wäkke wäk wäkke

So there is variation. In the source texts, kker ‘which’ is sometimes inflected for the non-nominative, as in the following example:

Wäkken Räid reke jie mie?
which advive give you me
Which advice do you give me?

Some sources in the Kramer archive use an unbent form wakker for all genders in the singular and plural:

Wäkker Mäme, wäkker Diert, wäkker Huze?
which mother which animal which houses
Which mother, which animal, which houses?

The interrogative pronoun wät ‘what’ can be used adjectively, though this is old-fasioned, giving it almost the same meaning as wäkker. An example is given below:

Wät Räid nu?
what advice now
Now what should we do?

The question word wät ‘what’ implies that there is a free choice. The word wäkke ‘which’ is also used as an indefinite pronoun meaning ‘some’, see: Existential quantification (7.2).

An attributive question can be formed with the special construction used for kinds, by means of the question word wät ‘what’ followed by the adposition foar ‘for’ followed by a noun. The question word can either be adjacent to the PP restricting its scope or it can be separate from it. Some examples are given below in which the question word and the restricting PP are put in bold:

Wät hieden ze deer aal foar Reeuwen?
what had they there all for tools
What kind of tools did they have there?
Wät foar Läkkeräien skuul iek kriege?
what for goodies should I get
What kind of goodies would I get?
Wät is dät foar ’n Diert?
what is it for an animal
What kind of animal is it?
Wät sunt dät foar wäkke?
what are it for which
What kind of people are they?

The last example is especially interesting. The NP targeted by the attributive interrogative is the question word wäkke ‘which’, here used as an indefinite quantifier.

[+]5. Adverbials

The degree of an Adverbial (AP) can be be questioned with the question word wo ‘how’, as in wo leet ‘how late’, wo jädden ‘how willing’, and so on.

Adverbials of time and frequency

The interrogative of time is wanner ‘when’. An example is given below:

Wanner drege do Skäipe ju maaste Wulle?
when carry the sheep the most wool
When do sheep carry most wool?
Wanner skäl iek die munter moakje?
when shall I you awake make
When shall I wake you up?

The interrogative of frequency is the phrase wo oafte ‘how often, how many times’. The topical or minimal answer to Wanner? ‘When?’ would be Dan! ‘Then!’.

Adverbial of manner

The adverbial of manner is: wo ‘how’. Some examples are given below:

Wo moakest du dät?
how make you it
How do you do it?
Wo krie-we dät dan?
how get-we it then
How do we get it?

The answer to such a question can be a PP or a discourse of several sentences explaining how something is done. The topical answer to Wo? ‘How’ would be: So! ‘So!’.

Adverbial of reason

The question word foar an adverbial of reason is: wieruum ‘why’. Some examples are given below:

Wieruum mouten sik do bee Brure aaltied slo?
why must REFL the both brothers always beat
Why do the two brothers always have to beat each other?
Wieruum lätst du so bidrouved ap so n fluggen Dai?
why appear you so sad on such a nice day
Why do you look so downcast on such a nice day.

The topical pronominal answer would be deeruum ‘that’s why’, as in the following sentence:

Et rakt neen wieruum, of deer is ook ‘n deeruum.
it gives no why or there is also a that’s why
Everything has its reason.

English doesn’t have a topic equivalent to the interrogative of reason so it has to make do with the unmarked demonstrative and a copula and the interrogative of reason: that’s why.

Adverbial of place

The adverbial of place is wier ‘where’. Some examples are given below:

Wier häbe jie dän Koai funden?
where have you the key found
Where did you find the key?

The adverbial of place can also be used to question adpositional objects. The topical pronominal answer to Wier? ‘Where?’ is Deer! ‘There!’.

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