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Responses to wh-questions in Estonian spoken interaction

Keywords: spoken Estonian, phrasal response, clausal response, specifying question, telling question

 

The purpose of this article is to research responses to the wh-questions in Estonian everyday conversations.In Estonian, wh-questions are formed with sentence-initial question words (mis ‘what’, kes ‘who’, etc.). The material consists of 103 extracts collected from the Corpus of Spoken Estonian of the University of Tartu. The extracts were analysed using the methodology of conversation analysis.

The data reveals that there are two types of wh-questions in Estonian: specifying and telling questions. Hence, the study provides a confirmation of the view presented in Thompson et al. (2015). A specifying question seeks a single piece of information, while a telling question asks for a longer response: a report, a story, an explanation, etc. (Thompson et al. 2015). In Estonian, the preferred answer for a specifying question is formed with a phrase (nouns, adjectives, noun/prepositional phrases). As the verb can appear alone in Estonian, verbs without other elements were counted as a phrase. A telling question expects a multi-unit clausal response, which could be preceded by a routinized phrase.

A specifying question is formed with question words kus ‘where’, kes ‘who’, millal ‘when’, andquestion phrases with mis ‘what’ (e.g. what time)or kui ‘how’ (e.g. how much)A telling question is formed with question words mis ‘what’, kuidas ‘how’, or miks ‘why’. However, the question word and the question type are not always in accordance. For example, the question word mis ‘what’ can formulate both specifying and telling questions. In this case, the sequential position gives a hint as the specifying question is rather a topic follow-up and the telling question is a topic proffer. Additionally, the choice of words and grammar (e.g. tense) helps to decide the question type.

 

Andra Rumm (b. 1991), MA, University of Tartu, PhD Student, andra.rumm@ut.ee

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