Question Words in Palikur or Why do I get such Dumb Answers?

Harold Green and Diana Green
Since the use of questions is so important in doing research in an indigenous language, it
would be extremely worthwhile to examine the question system of the language before
even beginning the research.
Even a simple corroboration yes!no" question can have its difficulties. #n $ali%ur, an
&rawa% language of 'ra(il, there are two question mar%ers) mmah which refers to a
specific event that has *ust been mentioned" and ba which refers to a general fact". +or
example, when chec%ing to see if a translation is communicating well, if the consultant
as%s, ,Did -esus go to -erusalem./ meaning at a particular time" and the translator uses
the question mar%er referring to general facts, the question comes out) ,Did -esus
generally go to -erusalem./ 0he native spea%er response to this might well be, ,# don1t
%now/ even though he %new that -esus did go at the particular time under consideration.
2onsultants are instructed to ma%e frequent use of generic questions such as who, what,
why, where, and when, but it cannot be assumed that the target language has such a
simple ,3 41s/ system. 5uestion words in many languages are much more specific. +or
example, in chec%ing translation in the $ali%ur language, if the question 4HE6 is as%ed,
it must be decided if the consultant wants to %now)
7. &t what time implying one completed action". aysaw
8. &t what times implying repeated action". *mmah
9. During what short definite time period that is, day, party". kabet
:. During what long definite time period that is, month, era". kavim
3. 'efore what event. kavitki
;. &fter what event. kariwntak
<. =ong after what event. kariwnteke
>nnecessary difficulties may arise if the translator is not aware of these possibilities, and
blithely assumes that the word aysaw ,at what time/ corresponds to the English ,when./
Sometimes, even though one is aware of the different possibilities, there is a strong
temptation to use aysaw since it seems to be the most highly generic word and would not
be giving any hints. However, the use of this word implies that the answer should be a
simple time word such as ,always,/ ,later,/ or ,long ago./ #t also implies that other
information is not wanted? otherwise it would have been as%ed for.
+or example, if the question is ,4HE6 did the -ews rest./ and aysaw is used, it would
mean ,&t what time did the -ews rest./ 0he native spea%er would begin by giving
whatever simple time words he thought appropriate. Since aysaw implies one completed
action, the most reasonable answer is ,=ong ago./ 4hen the native spea%er reali(es that
this is not the answer the translator wants, he might conclude) ,He must mean mmah &t
what times did the -ews rest."/ 0hat question also implies a simple time word answer, so
he comes up with the brilliant response, ,6ighttimes./ @eali(ing that this answer was not
satisfactory, and listening to a rereading of the passage, the long!suffering native spea%er
then decides, ,Ah, what he meant was kabet during what short time period did the -ews
rest."/ and gives the correct answer which he %new all along", ,Saturday./
Has this %ind of thing ever happened to you. & great deal of time could be saved by
as%ing the right question in the first place. Aften the ,dumb answers/ we receive are
given because of the ,dumb questions/ we have as%ed.
@eviewing the question system of the language before chec%ing the translation might
reveal to the translator many things he did not %now before, and would help the
consultant to %now how to frame his questions according to the specific question patterns
of the language. #f this were done, the actual chec%ing would probably go much faster.
=et1s say, for example, the consultant chec%ing translation in the $ali%ur language wants
to as% HA4 something was done and already %nows the question possibilities which are)
7. 'y what meansBmethod was something done". *mmah with possessed
nominali(ed verb"
8. #n what manner. mmahpa
9. #n what condition was someone". mmani
:. #n what sense is something li%e something else". *mmah with equative clause"
#nstead of simply as%ing, for example, ,HA4 did -esus enter the city./ he can as% for the
specific information he wants and hopefully" receive an immediate answer, that is, the
means was a don%ey, the manner was with a big celebration, and He did it in good
0he same is true for 4HC questions, which in $ali%ur, have the following meanings)
7. 4hat was the underlying reason for a good action". mmahki
8. 4hat was the underlying reason for a bad action". mmeneki
9. 4hat was the purpose. kadahan
:. 4hat was the good" overt causeBoccasion. kawaku
3. 4hat was the bad" overt causeBoccasion. kavatra
;. 4hat was the fearful" overt causeBoccasion. kabohri
#f the question is ,4HC did they %ill -esus./ the underlying reason is that they hated
Him. 0he purpose was to get rid of Him. 0he overt cause is that He said He was the Son
of God.
#f question word 6o.7 mmahki were used, it would imply that it was good that they %illed
him and the native spea%er might spend a lot of time trying to find a good reason.
#n as%ing for the overt cause, word 6o. 3 kavatra must be used because it is semantically
impossible to %ill someone because he did good. However, a morpheme indicating
disbelief, -kam, can be added which shows that the questioner does not believe that -esus
did anything wrong. 0his indicates how important it is to control the affixation of the
question words. #f we can1t, we may really pu((le our native spea%ers.
Similar lists should be made of questions covered by English terms 4HE@E, 4H&0,
4HA, and HA4 D&6C) #n $ali%ur, thus far, we %now of the following)
4HE@E questions may mean)
7. &t what place kiney
8. +rom what place does one come ! incomplete aspect" kitak
9. +rom what place didBwill one come ! complete aspect" kiteke
:. 0o what place does one go, is one going ! incomplete aspect" kit
3. 0o what place didBwill one go ! complete aspect" kite
;. 0o what place is one heading ! inceptive aspect" kitwiye
4ith these question words, too, a %nowledge of the affixation is important. #f the question
is ,4HE@E did -esus send His disciples./ and the expected answer is ,everywhere
preaching,/ the ,distant/ morpheme -pa must be added. #f it is not added, the native
spea%er may rac% his brain to thin% of some place close by He might have sent them.
4H&0 and 4HA cover such questions as)
7. 4hatBwho was the actor sub*ect". pariye in sub*. slot"
8. 4hatBwho was the goal ob*ect". pariye in ob*. slot"
9. 4hat happened. mmenpiki
:. 4hat action was performed. *mmah with intransitive clause
containing the verb ,to do/"
3. 4hat instrument was used. kakak
;. 4ho was benefited by ob*ect. indirect ob*ect" kit
<. 4ho was benefited by action. for whom was it done" kadahan
E. 4ith whom. accompaniment" kakak non!motion"
kahapti motion"
F. &bout whomBwhat. kamin
7G. 0o what ob*ect was the actor in a locative relation., 0here are 9: words HHHH
on what, in whose presence, beside whom, under what, etc."
77. 4hat particular one. 4hich". pariye with nounBad*."
78. 4hat is something1s generic class. *mmah with noun"
79. 4hat are its characteristics. mmahpaki
7:. 4hat is it used for. mmeneki
73. 4hat is it made of. pariyevahki
7;. 4ho does it belong to. kadahanki
7<. 4hat %ind. pariva akebi
7E. 4hat does it mean. kaminki
5uestions about quantity, for example, HA4 D&6C, are)
7. How much of an ob*ect". aysaw followed by noun"
8. How many ob*ects". aysaw akebi
9. How many people". aysaw gikebikis
:. How long. How many time periods." aysaw hawkri
3. How long. How much length of time." aysaw ayivwi
;. How many times was action done". aysawvut
<. How much is the cost. aysawmuk
0he fact that aysaw means ,at what time./ when followed by a clause and ,how much./
when followed by a noun exemplifies the fact that question words may have different
meaning according to the construction of the sentence in which they occur. 4e cannot
assume that a certain word always has the same meaning.
#n $ali%ur, the word mmah, besides acting as a question mar%er in corroboration yes!no"
questions, can have the meaning of the English terms ,when,/ ,why,/ ,how,/ ,what,/ or
,who/ in different constructions.
7. mmah I clause with corroboration intonation" Mmah ig %eh inin.
,Did he do this./
8. mmah I clause with information intonation" Mmah ig %eh inin.
,4hen did he do this./
9. mmah I clause Mmah ig %a %eh inin. ,4hy did he not do
when mmah could not semantically mean ,when/"
:. mmah I possessed nominali(ed verb Mmah a%eh%a git. ,How did he do this./
lit. ,How was it doing by him./"
3. mmah I equative claus Mmah ig i%ivarat. ,How in what sense" is
he a chief./
;. mmah I intransitive clause containing verb ,to do/ Mmah ig %eh. ,4hat
did he do./
<. mmah I non!human noun Mmah inin. ,4hat is this./
E. mmah I human noun Mmah ner. ,4ho is he./
H#t is not possible semantically to as% when someone did not do something. 0his fact is
also something the consultant should %now so he can frame positive questions." #f there is
a possibility of mmah meaning ,when/ instead of ,why,/ the common morpheme -ki
indicating pu((lement" is usually added? ma%ing the word mmahki ,why/.