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Interrogative main clause with verb first (yes/no interrogative)

General interrogative, or yes/no or polar interrogative, main clauses in Afrikaans are formed by placing a verb in the first position of the clause, followed by the subject at the beginning of the middle field, and the remainder of the clause thereafter. Generally, no other constituent, not even clausal adverbs, can intervene between the initial verb and the subject. Typical Afrikaans questions, with different auxiliary verbs and main verbs, are presented in example (1).

Example 1

a. Gaan u daar tuis?
[(V1) gaan] [(MF) [(SUB) u] daar] [(VF) tuis]
go.PRS you.HON there home
Do you stay there?
b. Het jy jou koffie gedrink?
[(V1) het] [(MF) [(SUB) jy] jou koffie] [(VF) gedrink]
have.AUX you.SG.SUB your.SG coffee drink.PST
Have you drunk your coffee?
c. Kan ek 'n vriend saambring?
[(V1) kan] [(MF) [(SUB) ek] 'n vriend] [(VF) saambring]
can.AUX.MOD I a friend along.bring.INF
Can I bring a friend along?

If one construes interrogative formation as a syntactic derivation, then the first verb (auxiliary if there is one, otherwise the main verb) is moved to the clause-initial position from its base position. In traditional views of the general interrogative, the word-order is attributed to the inversion of subject and first verb. Similar to Dutch and German, and unlike English, general interrogative formation in Afrikaans involves no additional auxiliary verb, and neither does specific interrogative formation.

[+]Use of the general interrogative

General interrogatives may ask for confirmation about a specific state of affairs, where the speaker has reason to believe that a particular situation is true, but wants to ask for confirmation thereof from the addressee. Example (2) represents a typical case of this type of function, where the speaker in (2a) asks a question, and the listener response in (2b) with an appropriate confirmation of the state of affairs.

Example 2

a. Gaan daar 'n saak gemaak word?
Will a case be made?
b. Ja meneer, daar gaan 'n saak gemaak raak van hom.
Yes sir, a case will be made.

In the case of interrogatives that contain a complement clause, it is often the complement clause, rather than the main clause, that is being inquired into. Thus, in example (3a), the question is ostensibly whether the listener holds a particular belief, but the answer in (3b) indicates that the listener understood the question to be an inquiry about the state of affairs in the complement clause, namely whether he will continue doing something for a long period of time, and he answers in the affirmative. (The textual context is that the speaker works as a chef, and is asked about whether he intends to keep on working as a chef.) He does not answer in terms of whether he thinks so, but in terms of whether he will do so.

Example 3

a. Dink jy jy sal dit nog lank doen?
Do you think you will be doing it for a long time.
b. Ja, ek sal.
Yes, I will.

General interrogatives are, however, very often used as polite directives, i.e. indirect requests, to the addressee to perform a particular action. Thus, in (4a), the speaker requests the hearer to repeat an address and telephone number, in the context of a radio interview, where the interviewer would like the radio audience to have time to write down contact details of the interviewee. In (4b), the speaker requests the addressee to inspect his car, and in subsequent dialogue, also requests, in the form of a question, the addressee to service the car as well, in the context of a service encounter at a service workshop.

Example 4

a. Kan u die adres en telefoonnommer vir ons net stadig herhaal?
Can you please repeat the address and telephone number slowly for us?
b. Sal jy my motor nagaan?
Will you check my car?
[+]Negated general interrogatives

When declaratives are negated, the default interpretation is that the existence of a particular state of affairs is denied. However, when general interrogatives are negated, the interpretation is not the polar opposite of the positive interrogative. Rather, the negated interrogative functions as a rhetorical question that usually assumes the actuality of the proposition in the clause, and implies surprise or some other affective response to the situation. The affirmative reading is illustrated by example (5a), while positive affect is illustrated by example (5b).

Example 5

a. Het die oumense nooit jagstories vertel nie?
Did the old folk never tell hunting stories?
b. Wil jy nie nog 'n koffietjie hê nie?
Don't you want another cup of coffee?

Another use of negation with interrogatives is connected to its use for polite directives, where negation of the interrogative serves to further ameliorate the impact of the imposition on the addressee. This is illustrated by example (6), where the speaker, a fieldworker in the corpus collection project, tries to persuade the addressee to offer more information and to elaborate, as part of the ongoing recording.

Example 6

Kan meneer nie nou van die ander plekkies se name nog onthou wat daai tyd hier was nie?
Sir, can you not recall some of the names of other places from long ago?
[+]Interrogatives with left-dislocation

Topicalisation is not usually an option for interrogatives, as a topicalised element preceding the verb will just be interpreted as a regular topicalised declarative, since the verb will be in the second position. Left-dislocation is available as an option, if some topic needs to be singled out emphatically before asking the question. The left-dislocated topic then precedes the clause, separated by a comma or intonation break, and its place in the main clause is taken by an appropriate co-referential pro-form, typically an anaphoric pronoun, as illustrated by singular dit it in (7a) and plural hulle them in (7b).

Example 7

a. My hemp, het iemand dit al gestryk?
My shirt, has somebody ironed it yet?
b. Die honde, het jy al vir hulle kos gegee?
The dogs, have you fed them already?
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