Lab members are currently involved in many different projects. Some project blurbs are featured below:
Why Oh Why? — The Dutch Question Word Hoezo
Hotze Rullmann and Sander Nederveen
This sub-project zooms in on why-questions, more specifically a special kind of why-question that occurs in Dutch. Why-questions are typically used to ask for a reason or explanation (for instance, Why was the train delayed?). But reasons and explanations can be of different kinds. Dutch has two separate question words that are both usually translated in English as why, but that differ from each other in interesting ways.
In addition to waarom (the run-of-the-mill counterpart of English why), Dutch also uses the more specialized question word hoezo. Questions with waarom are pretty much like English why-questions, but hoezo (which literally means ‘how so’) is used to ask why the previous speaker just said what they did. A typical example is the following mini-dialogue between two speakers (A and B) who are waiting for a train on the station platform:
Speaker A: The trein is vertraagd. (translation: ‘The train is delayed.’)
Speaker B: Hoezo vertraagd? (loose translation: ‘What do you mean,
By saying hoezo, B expresses skepticism about A’s statement and challenges them to give a reason for why they made that statement. This could for instance happen if B sees a train approaching in the distance and assumes that that’s the train they are waiting for. In other words, by saying hoezo, B does not ask A why the train is delayed, but rather why A said that.
Our working hypothesis is that hoezo-questions in Dutch are used by speakers to challenge the immediately preceding discourse move by their interlocutor. Hoezo is a pragmatic question word — it can best be characterized in terms of the conditions on its use rather than by describing its literal meaning. In this way, it shares some of the characteristics of what linguists call discourse particles: little words whose function it is to regulate or manage the conversation. Discourse particles are very common in many languages (including Dutch) but are often hard to translate adequately in English. We explore the possibility that hoezo is both a discourse particle and a question word at the same time. If that’s the case, this is evidence for the existence of a novel category of words that has not previously been recognized as such in the linguistic literature. We are currently testing our hypothesis by gathering examples of hoezo and waarom from a linguistic corpus of Dutch, and analyzing them in a theoretical model of the semantics and pragmatics of questions and dialogue. In the longer run, we plan to broaden our investigation by making comparisons to other ‘why’-type question words in closely related languages, such as English why, what for, how come, and how so, and German warum and wieso.