Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A possible source of misunderstanding

In Russian, there are few interrogative constructions - where, who, how, why... sure, the language covers that. But almost all yes/no questions are exactly the same as statements, only with different stress.

вы сиберайетес вместе с нами
(and again, sorry about the phonetic spelling - this is all audio work right now)
Vooy see-ber-aye-e-tye vmye-stee suh na-may.

If spoken in a level, steadily declining tone, it means "You are coming with us."
But if you stress the first word, it means "Are YOU coming with us?
If you stress the second word, it means "Are you coming with us?"
If you stress the last word, it asks "Are you coming with US?"

In all cases, even when asking a question, you never raise your tone at the end, like an English question. The tone always falls at the end.

So you see that the exact same sentence can be one statement and three questions, with no indicator words that it's a question, and no English friendly rising intonation at the end. You can see why perhaps there have been some misunderstandings with the Russian people: How many times do you suppose people may have thought they were demanding something when in fact they were asking a question...?

Очень интересно... Very interesting.

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