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indirect questions

Posted: Tue May 22, 2018 1:45 pm
by janKipo
The first thing about indirect questions is that they are not questions, either in English or in toki pona. Two things make them feel like questions: 1) interrogative pronouns look exactly like relative pronouns in English (and most I-E languages since PIE) and 2) the answer to a question is often (among other things) the corresponding “indirect” form: “What did he throw?” is answered tautologously with “What he threw”(if the interrogative word is the subject, the forms are even identical in sound-- barring intonation --: “Who threw it”). This comparison shows the difference in English: questions are pronoun tense subject verb oblique, relatives are pronoun subject verb oblique. Questions are sentences, though twisted ones usually; relatives are nouns or adjectives.

This relation gives rise to the usual explanation (other than mere calquing) for using toki pona question for for “indirect questions”: they are short for “the answer to the question given”. While this explanation has, as we will see, some advantages, it hard to justify even as a calque and certainly does not fit into toki pona grammar. At its best it is akin to confusing a statement that one has a desire with an expression of that desire (or maybe directive for that desire to be fulfilled). The place where an “indirect question” goes calls for a noun phrase and, in toki pona, sentences are not noun phrases (they are in English, but, as noted, “indirect questions” are not even sentences).

I am going to assume that most relative clauses are not a problem, that no one would translate “The man who came to dinner stayed a month” a ‘jan seme li kama tawa moku? ona li awen lon tenpo mun’ nor “I want what you have” as ‘mi wile e ni: sina jo e seme?”. The problem cases seem to center on ‘sona’ and occasional other words used with related meanings. This is somewhat ironic, since ‘sona’, in the appropriate sense, requires its object to be something that is either true or false (a proposition, in short) and question definitely are not (they may be both or neither or something else entirely depending on how you work it). So ‘mi sona e ni: sina tawa seme?’ is very odd for “I know where you are going”, in ways that either “mi sona e ni: sina tawa ona’ or ‘mi sona e tawa sina’, the two normal “relative clause” versions, are not.

All of these, even the “indirect question” form run into problems with ‘sona’. toki pona follows English and not the major European languages in having a single “know”, rather than separate “know facts” (wissen, savoir, saber) and “be familiar with people and things” (kennen, connotre, conocer) (This is the opposite of the the “make/do” division where it follows Europe in not having the distinction -- or shuffling its use). So we have ‘mi kama sona e toki pona’ “I learn toki pona’ but also ‘mi kama sona e jan Mali’ “I meet/ get acquainted with Mary”. The upshot of this is that, given ‘mi sona e tawa sina’ or any of the variants, we are not sure whether I am familiar with the place -- which I might be because I know it is one of three places I know well -- or I know the identity of the place you are going to, i.e., that you are going there. We have the same problem in English, of course, but seem to avoid its consequences for the most part, though I can’t figure just how. In the cases of mysteries, we often have the situation where everyone knows the murderer, the person who, it will turn out, is the murderer, but (almost) no one knows who the murderer is. This looks like inserting a separate notion at some level in the development of our sentences “I know the person who is the murderer” vs. “I know the identity of the murderer”. We can do a similar thing in toki pona. Or we can leave toki pona as it is and hope that context will resolve the issue.

Notice that using “indirect questions” doesn’t help with this issue at all, except that we can just ask different question ‘seme li moli e jan?’ (or ‘jan pi moli jan li seme?) and ‘semi li sama pi jan pi moli jan?’ (and various variations). There is one indirect question where the question form might help. Oddly, it is a form that doesn’t have a direct question easy parallel, “whether”. “Whether you are coming?” or the expected “Whether are you coming?” isn’t an English sentence (and hasn’t been for at least a long time). The corresponding question is actually “Are you coming?” and there is no interrogative pronoun for this -- nor a ‘seme’ in the toki pona pattern ‘sina kama ala kama.’ So, how do we say “You know whether they are coming” in toki pona? Before we press ‘sina sona e ni: ona li kama ala kama?’ into service, we might try the ‘sama’ trick of ‘sona’ problems and say “You know the truth value of that they are coming” ‘sina sona e lon ni: ona li kama’ or ‘sina sona e lon pi kama ona’ But that looks mighty like “You know the truth of that they are coming”, i.e., “You know that they are coming”, so we need at least a better word for “truth value” (or whatever) to fill the gap and this is getting rather sophisticated for a simple language (as if “truth value” and “identity” weren’t bad enough).

But, if we allow Y/N questions in as objects of at least ‘sona’ in toki pona, what grounds to do we have for excluding WH questions from the same role? Isn’t this just caving to English and not considering how things work autonomously in toki pona? But, as noted, English doesn’t use questions as objects of “know”, despite what various people (including some scholars) say. toki pona might have autonomously taken this path which English only appeared to approximate. (This line of chat seems the worst sort of rationalization, except that it works so well.) Further, the use of questions dodges the ‘sona’ problem. ‘mi sona e tawa sina’ or ‘e ni: sina tawa ona’ is simply a different claim from ‘mi sona e ni: sina tawa seme?’ with just the right difference.

When we move away from ‘sona’ to other cognitive verbs, however, we run into the problem that most of these (‘toki’, ‘kute’, ‘sitelen’, ‘lukin’, ‘pilin’) can take not only indirect question kinds of objects but also the questions themselves as quoted objects: “He said who the murderer is” “He said ‘Who is the murderer?”, both now presentable as ‘ona li toki e ni : jan li moli jan li seme?’ We can put the question in quotes, but are not obliged to. We could require this, but that has not been a favored response to use/mention problems in tp. So, we are left with problem we started with, though in a different configuration. Ultimately, whatever we do, we have to rely on context to get us to what is meant. And good luck with that.

Re: indirect questions

Posted: Wed May 23, 2018 11:13 pm
by janKuka
jan Kipo o,

I certainly would not have thought of it on my own, but I'm wondering whether you may have come up with an elegant solution to this problem within your post itself: the use of "sama," in the sense of "identity." Might this perhaps do the trick?

"I don't know who is coming." : "jan li kama. mi sona ala e sama pi jan ni."

"I know who killed Cock Robin." : "jan li moli e waso mije. mi sona e sama pi jan ni."

"She told him what she wants." : "ona meli li wile e ijo. ona meli li toki e sama pi ijo ni tawa ona mije."

"Everybody knows what he said about you." : "ona li toki e ijo sina. jan ali li sona e sama pi ijo ni."

"Nobody knows when dinner will be." : "moku li kama lon tenpo [wan? ijo?]. jan ala li sona e sama pi tenpo ni."

"I know where you are going." : "sina tawa [location]. mi sona e sama pi [location] ni." [Sorry, I'm still new to tp, and I'm not sure how to translate "location" in this sense yet.]

As for the case "whether," there I admit it seems to get a little trickier. We might still be able to get there, perhaps, in a more circuitous way?

"Only you know whether they are coming." : "ona li kama anu ona li kama ala. wan pi tu ni li lon. sina taso sona e sama pi wan ni."

Tortuous, to be sure. But perhaps clear?

Re: indirect questions

Posted: Thu May 24, 2018 8:21 am
by janKipo
Yes, it is tempting, since it seems to solve all problems. On the othr hand, it is rather artificial and abstract for a toki ona solution. I’ll keeping hoping for something better -- or several things for different problems.

Re: indirect questions

Posted: Thu May 24, 2018 11:29 am
by janKuka
By the way, how WOULD you say "place"/"location" in tp? (e.g., "I know that, wherever they are, they are in the same place." "He is going to a certain place.")

And how would you say "a certain time"? (e.g., "Dinner will be at a certain time.")

Re: indirect questions

Posted: Thu May 24, 2018 4:11 pm
by janKipo
Lon, ma for"place". "A certain" seems to be ,ni' with some clause if needed

Re: indirect questions

Posted: Thu May 24, 2018 5:08 pm
by janKuka
Lon, ma for"place". "A certain" seems to be ,ni' with some clause if needed

So would the following translations be correct (assuming we accept the "sama" solution for now)?

"I know that they are in the same place." : "mi sona e ni: ona mute li lon lon sama."

"He is going to a certain place." : "ona li tawa lon ni." (I guess I'm not sure what you mean by "with some clause if needed.")

"Nobody knows when dinner will be." : "moku li kama lon tenpo ni. jan ala li sona e sama pi tenpo ni."

"I know where you are going." : "sina tawa lon. mi sona e sama pi lon ni."

Re: indirect questions

Posted: Thu May 24, 2018 8:10 pm
by janKipo
I probably would arrange the pieces differently, but basically, yes. If we accept ‘sama’

mi sona e ni. ona li lon sama (I don’t see the need to repeat here)

ona li tawa lon/ma ni. ona li awen (or something else meaning “fixed, unmoving” -- doing it logically is just outside tp’s possibilities)

jan ala li sona e sama pi tenpo ni: moku li kama lon ona.’

mi sona e sama pi lon ni: sina tawa ona.

Re: indirect questions

Posted: Thu May 24, 2018 9:21 pm
by janKuka
Awesome! Thank you! :)

Re: indirect questions

Posted: Fri May 25, 2018 1:20 pm
by janTepanNetaPelin
jan Kuka o,

"sama" as identity is a good idea, but it doesn't solve the problem of ambiguity. "mi sona ala e sama pi jan ni" also reads as "I don't know that this person is the same".

Here is my take:

"mi sona ala e jan ni: ona ni li kama."

"mi sona e jan ni: ona ni li moli e waso mije."

"ona meli li toki e ni tawa ona mije: ona meli li wile e ona ni."

"jan ale li sona e ni: ona li toki e ona ni sina."

"jan ala li sona e tenpo ni: moku li kama lon ona ni."

"mi sona e ni: sina tawa ona ni."

"sina taso li sona e ni: ona li kama anu ala."

The last one could be read as an abbreviation of:

"sina taso li sona e toki sin pi wile sona ni: ona li kama anu ala?"

Re: indirect questions

Posted: Fri May 25, 2018 1:32 pm
by janTepanNetaPelin
jan Kuka o,

I understand you use "sama" not in the sense of "being same" but in the sense of "what it is like", and therefore you use "lon" not as "being there" but "where it is". Whereas this might work with transitive verbs, I avoid it with prepositions as it creates unnecessary ambiguities (which yields "lon lon", which is a give-away that something strange is going on). From "lon seme" = "where" we can conclude that "seme" translates not only to "what" but "which place". Therefore, "place" is "ijo".

"mi sona e ni: ona mute li lon ijo sama."

"ona li tawa ijo wan."

Since "wan", according to the official dictionary, can mean "unique", I suppose "wan" is good for "a certain".