Darwin-L Message Log 5:219 (January 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

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<5:219>From sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu  Sun Jan 30 16:06:30 1994

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Who, what, where, when, etc, Re: DARWIN-L digest 132
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 94 17:15:02 -0500
From: Sally Thomason <sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu>

   Iain Davidson asks, wrt those Indo-European interrogative
pronouns, why all these question words begin with the same phoneme.
In many languages (and language families), of course, they don't
-- in Montana Salish, for instance, `who' is suwe and `what' is
stem' and `where' is chen'.  But in Proto-Indo-European, there was
this single interrogative pronoun root beginning in *kw (which, as
was pointed out earlier, was a single phoneme, not a sequence of
[k] and [w]).  The root occurred with different vowels -- as did
many roots in PIE, though not usually with this particular semantic
differentiation -- and with different following consonants, i.e.
suffixes, depending on case, gender, part of speech, etc.  So, for instance,
the -s of Latin quis `who' and Sanskrit kas `who' and Greek tis `who'
is a nominative singular masculine ending.  The -d of Latin quid/quod
`what', English what, and ...I think...originally Sanskrit cid (in
the attested language this is an emphatic particle, not the pronoun)
is the old PIE nominative-accusative neuter singular suffix.  And
so forth.  The set of interrogative/relative pronouns remains in
most branches of the Indo-European family, and the forms are
transparently related by regular sound changes.

   I probably knew once (but don't any more) why the Sanskrit word
for `what?' is kim rather than cid (pronounced "chid"): the regular
sound change for PIE *kw gives a palatalized "ch" before front
vowels, including [i].  So kim doesn't fit phonetically (and the
suffix -m doesn't fit, either, in a Sanskrit pronoun -- the more
usual pronoun type has -d); that means it's probably analogic, to
the other forms with k, which is the normal reflex (descendent
sound) from *kw except before a front vowel.

   I think the dictionary form given earlier for Sanskrit `where',
kwa, must be wrong, because Sanskrit had no [w], and no [kw].
The glossary in Lanman's Reader gives kva alternating with kua,
and in the latter form the u is accented, so it would have been
two syllables.  (There are other instances of adverbial forms
based on the pronoun root *kwV -- where V = some vowel,
unspecified -- that have a vowel u, i.e. as if from PIE *kwu;
both of these Sanskrit forms, kva and kua, would fit into that
set, as would kutra, the other form given for `where'.)

   Sorry for all the picky detail.  It does get complicated.
Of course, that's why it appeals to (some of) us: it's like a
jigsaw puzzle, trying to get all the pieces to fit in.  But
the main answer to Iain Davidson's question is that the single
PIE pronoun root *kwV- is a fact about PIE, not about languages
in general (though there are no doubt other families with
similar related sets of interrogative pronominals).

  Sally Thomason

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