Wh-questions in Japanese

(I created a new Data category; I think that’s OK).

I am working on my Japanese test suite currently and I am reading Pesetsky 1987. He presents the following data:

33%20AM

Note the translation. It does not make sense in English but Pesetsky chooses to use it to illustrate the point (that something like this isn’t possible in English but is possible in Japanese).

If I were to replace it with a grammatical English translation, what would I say? I am not sure actually. It is not “What did John read before Mary left” because the question is sort of both about the time that Mary left and the book that John read?.. There must be a way to say it though?

“What did John read before Mary left” actually isn’t right: The leaving is before the reading, for one thing. We could certainly get somewhere with:

What was the thing such that Mary left before John read it?

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Ah yes!! Such that! What a useful phrase! Thanks, Emily! :slight_smile:

I guess “What was the thing such that Mary left before John read it” still does not match the felicitous answer… From the felicitous answer, it seems important that the time of Mary leaving is part if it (as well as the thing that was read by John). Or does it seem like this is an artifact of the translation?

Here’s the felicitous answer in Japanese:

Sensoo to Heiwa-o yomu mae desu
War and Peace-ACC read before COP
“It’s before (he) read War and Peace.”

I’m not sure I can come up with an English translation that has the same constraints on answer felicity, but I’m also not sure I’d expect such a close alignment between languages…

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“Mary left before John read what?” might result in an answer like “Before John read War and Peace” but I agree with Emily that there’s probably not an English translation that precludes an answer like “War and Peace”.

But maybe “Before John read what did Mary leave?” might get you closer, because just answering “War and Peace” might sound like an answer to “Before John read (something), what did Mary leave (behind)?” and the answerer may want be specific to avoid leaving the question ambiguous. But do note that this ambiguity is not present on the Japanese: dekaketa cannot be used for leave-behind, and the nani (“what”) is clearly attached to the yomu (“read”).

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