Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by John99, Jul 25, 2009.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    As Enmos said, the word "Why?" as a one-word question is contextual, referring back to the most recent statement.
    Not in contemporary American English. You generally only see it in comic strips, and it's shorthand for "Huh?" That is also contextual, usually meaning, "I don't understand something fundamental about what was just said." That makes it closer to "What?" than to "Why?"
    I interpret that as, "Huh?" In other words, "I don't understand how what you just said fits into the discussion. What did you mean?" Again, it's much closer to "What?" than to "Why?"
    Then you will be frequently misunderstood because the rest of us don't interpret that punctuation mark standing alone the way you expect us to.
    John's question must be interpreted in context but typical and reasonable interpretations include:
    • There are no movies. This is an Amish village and the nearest movie theater is in the next county.
    • We can't go anywhere. Your motorcycle ran out of gas.
    • It's five o'clock in the morning. There are no movies playing anywhere on this continent.
    • We're in Cluj and neither of us understands Romanian.
    • You just ran a red light and hit the mayor's car and we're surrounded by cops. The last place were going is to the movies.
    No, not linguistics. It's orthography, the set of conventions for writing a specific language. Orthographic conventions make up for tone of voice, pauses, facial expressions and all the other non-verbal clues we express in real conversation, and help us understand what is written.

    Breaking orthographic conventions is, at the very least, rude. Notice that John's iconoclastic refusal to write "I" correctly, with a capital letter, makes your eye pause for a millisecond as you try to figure out what "i" means. He's being rude to all of us, but he thinks it's cute.

    ifjohntookthisiconoclasmtoitslogicalextremeandjustwrotetheletterswithnorespectfor orthographyatallyoudprobablystopreadingbeforeyougotthisfarandputjohnonyourignorelist
    [Sorry, even the SciForums text processor can't handle that. It inserts spaces at random intervals, but I wrote it with none.]

    Writing a question mark with no words breaks traditional orthographic conventions, but in the 20th century comic strips established the convention that "?" means "Huh?" Since John doesn't like conventions, he wants to use it in a different way. The inevitable result is that no one will understand him.
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  3. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    lol Fantastic

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    John, here, your question mark means: "What the hell are you talking about?"

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  5. Steve100 O͓͍̯̬̯̙͈̟̥̳̩͒̆̿ͬ̑̀̓̿͋ͬ ̙̳ͅ ̫̪̳͔O Valued Senior Member

    ? by itself is normally not even a question, but a statement of confusion.
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  7. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    It can be interpreted with reasonable accuracy sometimes.
    But I agree, it generally just expresses overall confusion with the last statement or situation.
  8. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

  9. Norsefire Salam Shalom Salom Registered Senior Member

    Why not?
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Bear in mind that the original purpose of writing was to transcribe speech, and that's still its primary function. Punctuation marks were invented to approximately indicate the non-phonemic elements of speech, such as pauses (. ,), pitch (? !) and combinations thereof (; : " ...).

    A punctuation mark by itself does not fulfill this function since there's no speech to apply the pitch or pause to.

    However, as the technology of writing became widespread and integral to civilization, it's now used to transcribe language that is not intended to ever be rendered back into speech. Advertising and comics are the obvious examples. Virtually no one ever reads them aloud, and as a result they have evolved their own jargon of written symbols. Both the question mark and the exclamation mark can stand alone in a dialog balloon or a thought balloon in a comic strip or comic book, and conventions have been established for how to "read" them without words. The closest approximation we can write with words is to use interjections, and say that the question mark is similar to "Huh?" and the exclamation mark is similar to "Yah!" And neither of those interjections means much of anything without the context of the surrounding dialog.

    I suggest that another example of writing that is not meant to be read aloud, and is full of symbols, is mathematical formulas and equations. I'm not going to expend the arduous labor of pulling down the menu and building a formula with differentiation and integration, polynomial fractions, exponents, subscripts, trigonometric functions and nested parentheses and brackets, but I'm sure you would all nod your heads sagely at the prospective difficulty of reading it to a blind person.
  11. John99 Banned Banned

    it is stupid and ridiculous that someone would put a question mark after the word why.

    what i want to know is why.

    the word IS the question mark.
  12. jonte92 Registered Senior Member

    really? why!
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    You asked this question before and I answered it before.

    Please review my post #27. One major purpose of punctuation marks is to indicate the tone of voice to use when reading aloud. I realize that in this age of universal literacy people don't read aloud to each other very much anymore. But listen to a child reading aloud in class. Not one of the faster children but one of the slower ones. By the time he gets to the end of the sentence he may have completely forgotten that it was supposed to be a question. The question mark reminds him to put the appropriate inflection in his voice so it makes sense to the listeners, in case they too have forgotten the beginning of the sentence.

    It's not unreasonable to suggest that we don't need question marks any more in questions that are identified by interrogative words like why and how. But as an editor I assure you that it would be very confusing if those explicit questions did not have the mark, whereas a question identified by voice only, like "With your grades you were accepted by Harvard?" must have it to be understood.
  14. John99 Banned Banned


    In writing you can ponder a thought and not expect an answer.

    If you put why in the middle of a sentence:

    That why it is blue.

    Is that why it is blue?

    *the word is eliminates the need for a question mark. In that case is is the question mark.

    In front:

    Why is it blue?

    At the end:

    It is blue, i really dont know why. (correct)

    It is blue, i really dont know why? (incorrect)

    Here is where it gets interesting:

    It is blue. Do you know why?
    It is blue. Do you know why.

    We can see where the question is being asked and where it is not. It gets very tricky. The question is: would elimination of the question mark make communication more intuitive.(?)
  15. John99 Banned Banned

    No one agrees with me?

    Does anyone agree with me.
  16. John99 Banned Banned

    Give an example where there would be confusion at to weather a sentence is a question or is not a question. Use the same words in both sentences.
  17. TBodillia Registered Senior Member


    Definition: An interrogative sentence is a type of sentence which usually asks a question and use a question mark (?). They may ask for information or for confirmation or denial of a statement. They typically begin with a question word such as what, who, or how, or an auxiliary verb such as do/does, can or would."


    These are:
    why, where, how, when

    They are usually placed at the beginning of a question."


    "Sentences can be identified as having one of four purposes:

    * Declarative
    * Imperative
    * Interrogative
    * Exclamatory

    Interrogative Sentences

    Interrogative sentences have different terminal punctuation than declarative sentences and imperative sentences. Interrogative sentences always end with a questions mark.

    * Where are you going today?
    * Will you hand me the red paintbrush, please?
    * I don't know; which train do you think we should take?

    An interrogative sentence asks a question or requests information and ends with a question mark."
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That isn't the kind of confusion I was talking about. I'm talking about people knowing it's a question, and being confused about whether or not it takes a question mark.

    As TB points out, there are other dead-giveaways to interrogative sentences, such as starting one with an auxiliary verb.

    Most people don't know the formal rules of English grammar well enough to make this decision quickly, while writing. It's hard enough to write correctly, without changing the rules.
    • I'm wondering, should we close the restaurant early because no one is here?
    • I'm wondering whether we should close the restaurant early because no one is here.
    • Are you wondering whether we should close the restaurant early because no one is here?
  19. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Why does Spanish put a question mark at the beginning of a sentence, and upside down to boot (compared to English usage)?
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Wouldn't it be far more useful to know in advance that the sentence you're reading is interrogative, instead of waiting until the end? In Spanish, it isn't as common as in English for an interrogative sentence to be easily identified by word order, and not at all by auxiliary verbs, so you could be completely blind-sided.

    Hace calor. "It's hot."
    ¿Hace calor? "Is it hot?"

    ¡Aún se hace así con los puntos de exclamación!
  21. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    It's hot!

    It's hot?

    Maybe we should adopt the Spanish custom?
  22. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That's not a literal translation. Because Spanish verbs are inflected to show first, second or third person, singular or plural, it's often possible to omit the subject. Pronto llegaremos. "Soon (we) will arrive." The "we" is clearly expressed in the verb ending.

    Hace calor, means "(It) makes heat," with the verb ending expressing the indefinite pronoun "it."

    ¿Hace calor? means "Makes (it) heat?" If the subject were stated, then the reversed word order would give away the interrogative meaning. But it's not, so it doesn't.

    But we do talk that way:

    "Sorry I'm home late, Mom. Suzie and I were at the library working on our science project."

    "The library stays open till 3am on Saturday night?"
  23. Randwolf Ignorance killed the cat Valued Senior Member

    Thanks, Fraggle! I love new words and rarely encounter them. I'm one of those idiots that actually read the fr*kkin' dictionary, from time to time.

    Thanks again for the usage and explanation / definition...

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