Log in

No account? Create an account
30 March 2010 @ 09:09 pm
A question for linguists, about language formation in children, sort of  
In Mercedes Lackey's and James Mallory's two trilogies (Obsidian Chronicles and The Enduring Flame), the Elves do not ask direct questions and rarely make direct requests, except under the most pressing circumstances, known as "war manners". Everything is phrased obliquely, so, for example, "Who is riding in the party approaching the city?" might become, "It would be good hearing to know, of your courtesy, if you had seen which riders are approaching".

Children are not expected to have learned proper manners, though, and do ask questions. "Are you a human? Why are you dressed like that? Are you going to stay here?"

But it occurs to me -- if the children never hear questions, how would they learn how to form questions?
Emilytakumashii on March 31st, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
Not all languages have question formation as convoluted as English does; both Chinese and Japanese have the equivalent of "It is raining outside [question mark]", and in Japanese at least "It is raining outside [rising intonation]" is understood as a question even without the question particle at the end. If the elven language is similar I would guess that it wouldn't be hard to pick up how to form questions based on that.

...OTOH I'm having a really hard time imagining mothers asking their toddlers questions, or giving their toddlers instructions, using those kinds of oblique phrasings. I know of languages that are oblique like that in very polite contexts, but not of languages that are oblique like that even in intimate family conversations.