In a nutshell: We are a group researching the form and meaning of questions. We are examining a wide variety of languages, in many cases relying on novel fieldwork on under-studied and endangered ones across British Columbia, the USA, Mexico, India, South America, and beyond.

In a slightly larger nutshell: What makes a question a question? What kind of questions are there, within particular languages and across the languages of the world? How do they differ? What can they communicate about the speaker’s attitudes? How do they structure the conversations in which they occur? 

The ability to ask questions such as these is a core feature of human languages—a feature that no other animal communication system appears to have. Although questions have been studied in linguistic semantics for decades, work that is formally explicit has long focused on European languages. Very little is known about how the form and meaning of questions vary across languages. 

Our project examines what properties of questions are universal and what special properties they have in particular languages, including in languages that are endangered and have not been studied extensively. This significant cross-linguistic coverage is made possible by the language expertise of our team: with five UBC researchers, three collaborators, and student team members, we are studying more than 15 languages, including ʔayʔaǰuθəm, Brazilian Portuguese, Changshanese, Dutch, English, German, Gitksan, Ktunaxa, Mandarin, Marathi, Nɬeʔkepmxcin, San Pablo Güilá Zapotec, Secwepemctsín, Southern Min Taiwanese, Spanish, St’át’imcets, and Wá∙šiw.

To answer some questions you may have about Questions Lab, first the WHO: our is PI Lisa Matthewson, and co-investigators are Ryan Bochnak, Eva Csipak, Marcin Morzycki and Hotze Rullmann, and we have many students involved as well. WHAT: We are a group that is researching the form and meaning of sentences that ask questions, by looking at a wide variety of languages, in many cases using novel fieldwork on under-represented languages. WHERE we work is across BC, USA, Mexico, India and South America, and beyond. The WHEN is we’ve been doing this since 2021, and the HOW is through a SSHRC Insight Grant called “Questions about questions in human languages.”