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Finite interrogative complement clauses: lexical and semantic associations

Interrogative complement clauses can be used in three syntactic positions: object complement clauses, subject complement clauses and complementive clauses. The interrogative complement clause combines with different complement-taking predicates (CTPs) in constructions that perform a number of different functions. These functions become clear when one considers the lexical and semantic associations of each of the three constructions, which are labelled based on the position of the complement clause: object, subject and complementive complement clause constructions. It is the lexical and semantic elements constituting the CTP that are decisive in establishing the function of the three constructions.

The interrogative complement clause in object position, in combination with its complement-taking predicate (CTP), is used to convey a number of related meanings. The construction is used to signal indirect requests or commands, as one resource with which to increase the politeness of the expression. Complement-taking verbs such as verduidelik to explain are particularly useful in this function, as shown by example (1).

Example 1

Verduidelik in jou eie woorde hoe kreatiewe onderrig en denke tot beter resultate tydens assessering kan lei.
Explain in your own words how creative teaching and thinking can lead to better results during assessment.

Object complement clauses can also be used in reported speech constructions to report questions, in association with verbs like vra to ask, as shown by example (2).

Example 2

Toe die dokter haar vra of sy 'n saak gaan maak, vertel sy hom van die interdik wat sy gekry het.
When the doctor asks her if she is going to make a case, she tells him about the interdict that she has obtained.

Another function of the interrogative object complement clause construction, which corresponds to a function of its declarative counterpart, is to achieve intersubjective coordination, specifically by negotiating the epistemic validity or the desirability of a proposition. This is done with similar complement-taking verbs as the declarative complement clause, such as weet to know, but with either modal verbs or negation incorporated into the CTP, to indicate that the proposition in the complement clause is not being asserted, but either called into question, as illustrated by example (3), or denied altogether.

Example 3

Jy sal nie weet watse dag der helle ek agter op die grootkerk se lorrie gehad het nie.
You would not know what day from hell I had on the back of the big-church lorry.

At the same time, and especially in combination with the specific interrogative clause, the construction can be used to convey an assertive meaning where the WH-word serves as an anaphoric (and sometimes even deictic) reference to information known from elsewhere in the context. In such cases, the overlap with the declarative complement clause is even more extensive, as shown in example (4).

Example 4

Onder die opskrif “Beskikking van my oorskot” stipuleer hy in sy testament watter ondernemers sy begrafnis moet behartig.
Under the heading “Disposal of my remains” he stipulates in his testament which undertakers should take care of his funeral.

Interrogative complement clauses in subject position occur far more frequently in the dit-extraposition variant than in the clause-initial variant, and the former has much clearer and more specific lexical associations. Interrogative complement clauses in subject position are mainly embedded in CTPs that challenge the epistemic validity of the complement clause, as exemplified by a general interrogative in (5) and a specific interrogative in (6). Such challenges are usually conveyed through negation of the complementive, either syntactic negation with nie not or morphological negation with a negative prefix to the adjective, as exemplified by (5) and (6) respectively. The negated variants of adjectives like duidelik clear, seker certain and bekend known are particularly well-represented in this construction in Afrikaans.

Example 5

Dit is nog nie duidelik of sy seun en dogter moontlik ontvoer sou word nie.
It is not yet clear if his son and daughter would possibly be kidnapped.
Example 6

Dit is dus onduidelik waarom die departement vir die advertensies betaal.
It is therefore unclear why the department pays for the advertisements.

The vast majority of all subject clauses are embedded in copular constructions with the copular verb is be.PRS and an adjective as complementive, as exemplified by example (5) and (6). A small number of other copular verbs can be used, for example word become in example (7). Some fixed expressions, such as the construction [hang af van X depend on X], also occur, as exemplified in (8) (where the subject clause occurs in the clause-initial rather than extraposed variant). Complementives other than adjectives are extremely rare with subject complement clauses.

Example 7

Kort daarna word dit duidelik waarom die minister geglimlag het asof botter nie in haar mond kan smelt nie.
Shortly thereafter, it becomes clear why the minister smiled as if butter can’t melt in her mouth /as is she did nothing wrong.
Example 8

Of 'n bylarwe 'n koningin of 'n werker word, hang af van die kos wat sy gevoer word.
Whether a bee larva becomes a queen or a worker depends on the food that she is fed.

The general interrogative subject clause construction is almost exclusively used to convey epistemic meanings in Afrikaans, but the use of the specific interrogative extends beyond epistemic meanings to combine with CTPs that convey subjective evaluations of the content of the proposition in the complement clause, as exemplified by (9). Adjectives like opvallend, snaaks and belangrik are typically used to convey such evaluative meanings.

Example 9

Dis verbasend watter mooi effek met 'n paar potplante geskep kan word.
It’s surprising what a beautiful effect can be created with a few pot plants.

Interrogative complement clauses as complementives demonstrate very few options, and the patterns in which they occur are quite fixed, as set out in the discussion of the syntactic distribution of interrogative complement clauses. In the construction where a complement-taking predicate (CTP) combines with a general interrogative complementive clause, the dominant pattern in the CTP is the dummy subject dit it in combination with the copular verb lyk seem, as illustrated by example (10). The verbs voel feel, voorkom appear and is be.PRS are also attested in lower frequencies. These variants of the general interrogative complementive clause construction function to introduce a complement clause whose factuality is not asserted, but subject to a degree of uncertainty, without being negated.

Example 10

Daarvolgens lyk dit of die meeste atlete se vermoëns met twee tot drie persent verbeter het.
According to that, it seems if most athletes’ abilities improved by two to three percent.

The only noticeable variation on this pattern is where the subject of the clause is the noun phrase [die ADJ vraag the ADJ question], with an optional adjective, followed by the verb is be.PRS, as exemplified by (11).

Example 11

Die groot vraag is of die koerante weet van Joubert se sielkundige behandeling en die swart kolle op sy rekord.
The big question is whether the newspapers know about Joubert's psychological treatment and the black marks on his record.

In the construction where a CTP combines with a specific interrogative complementive clause, there are two main patterns of association. In the more frequent pattern, the subject pronoun dit it, which is usually anaphoric, rather than a dummy subject, combines with the copular verb is be.PRS, as exemplified by (12).

Example 12

'n Tragedie wat wag om te gebeur. Dit is hoe inwoners van Brakpan-Noord voel oor die massiewe gat van sowat 100 m diep en 100 m in deursnee in hul buurt…
A tragedy waiting to happen. This is how inhabitants of Brakpan North feel about the massive hole of about 100 m deep and 100 m across in their neighbourhood…

The other widely attested option in Afrikaans is where the subject is the noun phrase [die ADJ vraag the ADJ question], with an optional adjective, similar to the CTP that combines with the general interrogative clause, as exemplified in (13). In both cases, the noun phrase serves a cohesive function to draw together the preceding part of the text in the noun vraag, before posing that question, which itself retains the interrogative meaning, rather than casting doubt on the validity of the proposition.

Example 13

Die vraag is watter invloed hierdie kragtige beweging reeds op lidmate van die hoofstroomkerke het?
The question is what influence this powerful movement has already had on the members of the mainstream churches?
[+]Object complement clauses

The lexical associations of interrogative object complement clauses serve to distinguish the various functions of the construction. One very important associations is the verb of the complement-taking predicate (CTP), which indicates what type of speech act is performed or what type of attitude is projected into the complement clause. Other important associations concern features like modality and negation in the CTP, which serve to hedge or challenge the content of the complement clause

Indirect requests or commands are conveyed more often with infinitive complement clauses, but interrogative complement clauses can also be used for this function. The verb verduidelik to explain is used very frequently in combination with specific interrogative clauses (more than 150 times per million words in the TK), while other verbs such as aanbeveel to recommend, aansê to instruct/direct, bewys to prove, dikteer to dictate, verklaar to explain, and vra to ask are also used regularly in this function. Such indirect commands are associated with instructional texts, especially in an educational context, as exemplified by (14).

Example 14

Probeer verklaar wat jy waarneem.
Try to explain what you observe.

An alternative context of use is in managing interpersonal interaction, where speakers can use verbs with stronger or weaker deontic force to direct the actions of an interlocutor, as exemplified by (15) and (16).

Example 15

Hy het gedikteer wie ek moes kies en watter soort rugby ons moes speel.
He dictated who I had to choose and what kind of rugby we had to play.
Example 16

Ek wil jou vra of jy saam met my Stellenbosch toe sal gaan, volgende Saterdag.
I want to ask you if you will go with me to Stellenbosch, next Saturday.

The reporting of questions through indirect speech is a fairly limited function of the interrogative complement clause, and is mainly conveyed by means of the speech reporting verb vra to ask. This function occurs with both specific and general questions, as exemplified by (17) and (18). While specific interrogative complement clauses are more frequent overall than specific complement clauses, the function of reporting questions indirectly is the dominant function of the general interrogative complement clause.

Example 17

Hy lyk verwonderd wanneer ek vra waar hy op sy tog geslaap het.
He looks puzzled when I ask where he slept during his journey.
Example 18

“Karin se bestuurder het selfs vir Renate gevra of sy die volgende dag vir Karin gim toe sou neem.”
“Karin’s manager even asked Renate if she would take Karin to gym the next day.”

The most frequent function of interrogative object complement clause constructions is where the conversation partners negotiate the validity or desirability of the proposition in the complement clause. Thus, the factuality of the proposition is not assumed, as is usually the case with the declarative object complement clause, but is instead called into question or moderated in some other way. There are two major sets of lexical associations in the CTP that achieve this outcome: the semantics of the complement-taking verb, or the use of negation or modal verbs.

Verbs that convey a degree of uncertainty include bespiegel to speculate, gis to speculate, glo to believe, raai to guess, skat to reckon, vergeet to forget and vermoed to suspect. Their use signals to the reader/listener that the information to follow is not certain, but approximate. All of them can combine with the declarative clause as well, but when a particular piece of information can be highlighted as a reason for the uncertainty, a specific interrogative clause is the more useful option, as illustrated by example (19) and (20).

Example 19

Wetenskaplikes kan net bespiegel oor hoe die eerste insekte gevlieg het.
Scientists can only speculate about how the first insects flew.
Example 20

Hy skop die goed gedurig uit en vergeet dan waar hy hulle laat lê het.
He’s constantly kicking the things off and then forgetting where he left them.

Verbs that are more typically associated with declarative complement clauses also combine with interrogative complement clauses when they are used to indicate a degree of uncertainty about the proposition in the complement clause, which is often achieved by combination with negation or a modal auxiliary. Examples of such verbs are begryp to comprehend, uitvind to find out/discover, verklaar to explain, verstaan to understand, weet to know and wis to know. These are typically mental verbs that indicate the state of knowledge of the subject, but to the extent that that knowledge is not certain, the interrogative complement clause is more useful than the declarative complement clause, especially if the point of uncertainty can be made salient with a WH-interrogative. These options are illustrated by example (21) to (24), where negation and/or modal auxiliaries are used with an interrogative complement clause.

Example 21

Die jong boer staan nog 'n oomblik asof hy glad nie kan begryp wat aangaan nie.
The young farmer remains standing for a moment, as if he cannot understand what is going on at all.
Example 22

Jy moet eers uitvind waaroor die gedig handel.
You must first find out what the poem is about.
Example 23

“Ek verstaan nie aldag hoe Pa na die lewe kyk nie,” sug my suster…
“I don’t always understand how Dad looks at life,” my sister sighs…
Example 24

Min kon hy wis wat hy in gedagte gehad het.
Little could he know what he had in mind.

By contrast, most of the CTP verbs in example (21) to (24) would combine more easily with a declarative complement clause if they were not accompanied with negation or modal auxiliaries, as exemplified by (25) and (26). However, critically, where the declarative complement clauses are used, the information of the complement clause is presupposed as true, and contains no uncertain elements.

Example 25

Hulle vind uit dat die film eers agtuur begin.
They discover that the film only begins at eight o’clock.
Example 26

Hy wis baie goed dat hy 'n leuen verkondig het, dat hy 'n beleid verdedig het wat nie kon werk nie.
He knew very well that he told a lie, that he defended a policy that could not work.

Even if the CTP does contain a modal or negation, it can still be used with a declarative complement clause, as long as the information in the CTP itself is presupposed as true. In such cases, it is the CTP subject’s state of knowledge about the information that is being negotiated. This is exemplified in (27), where the factivity of the magistrate’s refusal is accepted, but the subject’s inability to understand it is given prominence by the CTP.

Example 27

Hy kan nie begryp dat die magistraat so hardkoppig weier om die gevaar te besef nie.
He cannot comprehend that the magistrate refuses so obstinately to see the danger.

With general interrogative clauses, the meaning of approximation is also found with a verb like voel to feel, where the feeling being communicated in the complement clause is not denoted in a precise way. The CTP therefore serves as a hedge to the meaning of the complement clause, as shown in example (28). The typical meaning also extends to expressions of comparisons, as shown in example (29), where the complementiser of if can be replaced by asof as if/though, which makes the comparative meaning more salient. The complementisers of and asof can be interchanged in these two examples in Afrikaans, an option that seems less idiomatic in English or Dutch, where as if or alsof seems required.

Example 28

Alwyn voel of sy liggaam in vloeibare suurstof gedoop word.
Alwyn feels as if his body is being dipped in liquid oxygen.
Example 29

Dit voel vir Alida asof daar 'n ewigheid verloop voordat hulle gereed is om te vertrek.
Alida feels as if an eternity passes before they are ready to depart.

A final use of the interrogative object complement clause is one where the CTP is very similar to the CTPs that are used with declarative complement clauses, and where the content of the interrogative complement clause is being asserted, rather than hedged. Where this happens, the WH-word seems to be used in a referential way to refer to content that is either present in the textual context, anaphorically, as in example (30), or else implied in the context, as in example (31). Verbs that are strongly associated with this use include begryp to understand, hoor to hear, onthou to remember, sien to see, snap to grasp, uitvind to find out, voel to feel.

Example 30

Hy hoor hoe iemand aan die voordeur klop.
He hears how someone knocks on the front door.

In example (30), the WH-word hoe how refers to the sound made by the knocking on the door, information that is present in the context. There is no question being asked about the manner in which the knocking takes place, but the information that there is knocking is asserted, alongside the assertion that the subject of the main clause is able to apprehend the manner in which such knocking takes place.

Example 31

“Eenvoudig, jy gee hulle net jou naam, en dan weet hulle presies waar jy bly.”
“Simple, you just give them your name, and then they know exactly where you live.”

In example (31), the WH-word waar where denotes information that the subject of the CTP, hulle they clearly have, even if it is not spelled out in context.

[+]Subject complement clause

A structural distinction is drawn between general and specific interrogative complement clauses, and a further structural distinction is drawn between two variants of the subject complement clause, the dit-extraposition and the clause-initial variants. Differences in the lexical associations and semantics of the variants are relatively few, and the overlap in meaning is very prominent.

The dit-extraposition variant is consistently the more frequent variant in the Taalkommissie Corpus (TK) and also contains much clearer, specific lexical associations, while there are not many combinations with the clause-initial variant that reach any noticeable frequency. In the discussion below, the focus is therefore on the dit-extraposition variant, with a brief extension into further possibilities for the clause-initial variant only where applicable.

The general interrogative subject complement clause is restricted semantically to embedding in predicates that convey epistemic meanings. The epistemic association is just as prominent with the specific interrogative. These two structural variants are therefore presented together. The specific interrogative complement clause has a number of further semantic associations, which are discussed after the epistemic associations.

Interrogative complement clauses function as subject clauses alongside two other elements that constitute the complement-taking predicate (CTP): a verb, which is usually a copular verb, and a complementive, which is usually adjectival. In the case of verbs other than copular verbs, a number of fixed expressions are attested. The copular verb is overwhelmingly the verb is be.PRS in the present tense form. The past tense was be.PST, as exemplified in (32), is extremely rare.

Example 32

Dit was onduidelik of daar enige vordering was.
It was unclear if there was any progress.

Other copular verbs that are attested are word to become and bly to remain, which add additional aspectual information to the CTP – the inception of a state in the case of word and the persistence therefore in the case of bly, as shown in example (33) and (34). The basic copular meaning is still present in these contexts.

Example 33

Eers in 2010 sal dit duidelik word of die twyfel geregverdig was.
Only in 2010 will it become clear if the doubt was justified.
Example 34

Dit bly 'n raaisel waarom 'n werk met soveel melodiese vindingrykheid steeds deur die operawêreld soos 'n stiefkind behandel word.
It remains a mystery why a work with so much melodic ingenuity continues to be treated like a stepchild by the opera world.

Non-copular verbs in interrogative subject clause constructions are limited to a few idiomatic expressions (lexically more specific micro-constructions), such as ­[ hang af van NP depend on NP], [ skeel NP min bother NP little / do not bother NP much], and [ NP maak nie saak nie NP do(es) not matter], as exemplified by (35) to (37). Other lexical verbs are extremely rare in combination with interrogative subject clauses.

Example 35

Dit hang nou net van my af of ek die geleentheid met albei hande aangryp.
It now depends only on me whether I grab the opportunity with both hands.
Example 36

Dit skeel hom min hoe sy Martini bedien word.
It doesn’t bother him much how his Martini is served.
Example 37

Dit maak ook nie saak hoe dikvellig jy is wat kommersiële musiek betref nie, hulle gaan jou uiteindelik kry.
It also doesn’t matter how thick-skinned you are as far as commercial music is concerned, they are going to get you in the end.

Apart from these idiomatic expressions, the meaning and function of the interrogative subject clause construction reside mainly in the complementive that accompanies the copular verb. These make it clear that a question mark hangs over the validity of the proposition in the subject clause. The most frequently used complementives are negated variations of the adjectives duidelik clear, seker certain and bekend known. The negation is achieved either through a prefix, in forms like onduidelik unclear, onseker uncertain, onbekend unknown as well as onverklaarbaar inexplicable, or by syntactic means, with the negative particle nie not. Alongside the contrast between example (5) and (6) above, this contrast is also exemplified by example (38) and (39).

Example 38

Dis nog onbekend hoe die brand in een van die kamers ontstaan het, maar…
It is still unknown how the fire started in one of the rooms, but…
Example 39

Dit is ook nie bekend watter tegniek die mees geskikte is vir die ontwikkeling van so ‘n hulpbron nie.
It is also not known which technique is the most suitable for the development of such a resource.

Apart from adjectives, certain noun phrases with similar meanings can also be used as complementives, such as 'n ope vraag an open question in example (40), but in general, very few such nouns are used in this construction.

Example 40

Dis natuurlik 'n ope vraag of dit so verstandig is.
It is obviously an open question whether it is so sensible.

In combination with specific interrogative subject clauses, complementives that convey meanings other than epistemic are also attested. These meanings are typically subjective evaluations of the state of affairs expressed by the subject clause, expressed by adjectives such as skrikwekkend frightening, snaaks funny, ongelooflik incredible and vreemd strange, as exemplified by (41) and (42). In these cases, negation is not a typical feature of the CTP, unlike the case with epistemic meanings.

Example 41

Pillay het gesê dit is skrikwekkend hoe gevaarlik sommige aansluitings is.
Pillay said it is frightening how dangerous certain connections are.
Example 42

Dit is snaaks waar hierdie dinge vandaan kom.
It is funny where these things come from.

A very prominent subset of evaluative complementives conveys meanings that highlight the importance or textual prominence of the information in the subject clause, such as opvallend noticeable, or belangrik important, as exemplified by (43) and (44). Combinations with morphological or syntactic negation are attested with belangrik, but not very noticeable elsewhere.

Example 43

Dit was opvallend … hoe hartlik almal ons in Soweto kom verwelkom het.
It was noticeable … how heartily everybody came to welcome us in Soweto.
Example 44

Dis nie belangrik watter geslag Bobby se lover is nie.
It’s not important what sex Bobby’s lover is.
[+]Complementive clause

Interrogative complementive clauses display a very limited range of semantic and lexical associations, which are covered fully in the presentation of the syntactic distribution of interrogative complementive clauses.

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