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Questions and responses in Lao


Enfield,  N. J.
Language and Cognition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Radboud University Nijmegen;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;
Human Sociality and Systems of Language Use, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language documentation and data mining;
Interactional Foundations of Language, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Enfield, N. J. (2010). Questions and responses in Lao. Journal of Pragmatics, 42, 2649-2665. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2010.04.004.

This paper surveys the structure of questions and their responses in Lao, a Southwestern Tai language spoken in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. Data are from video-recordings of naturally occurring conversation in Vientiane, Laos. An outline of the lexico-grammatical options for formulating questions describes content (‘WH’) questions and polar (‘yes/no’) questions. The content question forms are from a set of indefinite pronouns. The WHAT, WHERE, and WHO categories have higher token frequency than the other categories. Polar questions are mostly formed by the addition of different turn-final markers, with different meanings. ‘Declarative questions’ (i.e., polar questions which are formally identical to statements) are common. An examination of the interactional functions of questions in the data show asymmetries between polar and content questions, with content questions used mostly for requesting information, while polar questions are also widely used for requesting confirmation, among other things. There is discussion of the kinds of responses that are appropriate or preferred given certain types of question. Alongside discussion of numerous examples, the paper provides quantitative data on the frequencies of various patterns in questions and responses. These data form part of a large-scale, ten-language coding study.