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Do all languages ask questions the same way?

H2: Answer:

Of course not.

H2 Question:

I don't mean the words. I mean do they go up at the end?

H2 Answer:

No. In fact, English doesn't always go up at the end.

It's quite OK to say things that are obviously questions without much (or even without any) rise at the end. A good example is something like "Where did you put the car?" If you add too much rise at the end it sounds strange, or perhaps incredulous. For instance a good strong rise fits in with the last sentence of this exchange:

Where did you put the car?
Oh, I parked it in the living room. I had to take the french doors off to drive it in. It was too cold outside to give it a proper paint job, so I figured...
Where did you put the car?

But, if the situation is more normal, one would use little or no rise on the car question.

Evening, George.
Where'd you put the car? D'you know we have some new parking rules starting this week?

Probably, the parking question would get more of a rise. (However, we've also learned that there is a reasonable amount of variability from person to person so it's not good to be too definite.)

H3 There's more than one English

Actually, I shouldn't say "English" there, because each dialect is different. In Belfast, almost everything has a high pitched ending, including things that are clearly statements. In other dialects, only a few questions are given a rise at the end.

In most dialects of English, echo questions / incredulous questions / declarative questions typically get a rise. These are things like

"I gave the glass to Emily."
"You gave what?"


Hi, Dear. You went to the store?

Other question that use words like "what", "when", and "how" or questions that swap the normal word order ("Did you go to the store?") are often not marked with much of a rise, if any is given at all.

H3 Other languages

Russian questions depend on the word at the end of the sentence. If the word has a stress (emphasis) at the end, the pitch typically rises in a quetion; if the last syllable is not stressed, then there is typically a final fall.

Chinese is a tone language. The pitch of speech rises and falls to carry some of the meaning of the words. (The classic example is "Ma ma ma ma." Said with one pitch pattern, it means "Mother scolds the horse;" said with a different tune, it means "The horse scolds mother.") When questions are not marked with special question words, they tend to have exaggerated pitch motions near the end of the sentence.

H2 Universal Frequency Code H3 Question:

I read that there's a universal frequency code for questions. People have said that you raise the pitch of your voice when you request information so that you seem smaller and less threatening. You know, big hefty guys have low voices; children and women have higher pitched voices.

H3 Answer: It's probably true, though the word "universal" is used in the linguistic sense, not in the normal sense of "Everywhere and always". When linguists say "universal", what they really mean is "this happens in a surprisingly large number of languages," or "in a lot of different circumstances." (Personally, I'd write something like "near-universal," instead.)
[ Papers | | Phonetics Lab | Oxford ] Last Modified Thu Oct 18 05:25:06 2007 Greg Kochanski: [ ]