Pre-verbal wh words

Question for @olzama about the wh question library. Tsova-Tush (bbl) has free word order in declaratives, but requires wh words to be immediately pre-verbal (in wh questions). I suggested to the students modeling this that they try saying that wh words can take focus marking and that focus is preverbal, but the resulting grammar doesn’t rule out wh words in other positions.

Is this pattern something that you anticipated or otherwise have a suggestion for?


Matrix wh questions: what abs
Source: b 2720
Vetted: s
Judgment: g
Phenomena: Matrix wh questions
vux tit’-er
what(abs) cut_aorist-perfective
What did (s/he) cut?

Matrix wh questions: word order should have question word precede the verb
Source: author
Vetted: f
Judgment: u
Phenomena: Matrix wh questions
tit’-er vux
cut_aorist-perfective what(abs)
What did (s/he) cut?

Also, really interesting things going on if the wh word comes from the embedded clause! Here’s an example they turned up, where the wh word is repeated before each verb:

vux ɣan d-ag-ir leven-en, vux d-av-d-ier daħ
what dream CM-see-IMPF Levan-DAT what CM-lose-CM-IMPF away
What did Levan dream that he lost?

Source: Hauk, Bryn. 2020. Deixis and reference tracking in Tsova-Tush . Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa PhD dissertation.

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Re focus: the information structure library currently only supports scenarios where there is a “basic” word order (e.g. SVO) and then other orders are possible in focus or topic constructions. The analysis for free word order was never finished (incidentally, this is the topic that quickly becomes confusing because there will be literature which describes “free” word order where in fact it means some orders are possible only in focused constructions, but then there may also be literature which perhaps talks about freedom of word order unrelated to information structure).

Anyway, yeah, when I added wh-questions, I only tested the fully supported combinations, e.g. SVO etc. (The library should issue a warning when free word order is selected along with info-str choices; I think it does.)

Thanks, Olga. A related (non-urgent) question: If the focus marking were something else (say, strict SOV word order + a focus particle), would the option that wh words can take focus marking mean they must?

No I think it means they can but it will be optional (overt) marking. It’s more marking than meaning, so while they may have some inherent focus, it doesn’t meant they must be overtly marked for it.

I just looked into my pseudolanguages and it appeared I used contrastive focus? I think this is because of something Sanghoun says in his thesis, though to be honest this is not the best part of my work :). I think I implemented and tested a couple of simple specifications there: contrastive focus particle that is impossible with wh-words and contrastive focus particle which is possible with wh-words. And that was it. I can look in more detail later.

Thanks, Olga. Definitely non-urgent!