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Wh-indeterminates in Chuj (Mayan)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 February 2019

Hadas Kotek*
New York University
Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine*
National University of Singapore


This article investigates the varied uses of wh-words in Chuj, an understudied Mayan language of Guatemala. Cross-linguistically, wh-words are commonly used not only for question formation but also in a range of other constructions, including wh-quantification, indefinites, and the formation of relative clauses. In Chuj, we will show that wh-words are used to form indefinites (in certain limited environments), universal quantifiers, free choice items, and two kinds of free relatives: definite free relatives, but also the typologically rarer indefinite free relatives. We sketch an analysis of each construction, and discuss generalizations concerning their distribution. The varied uses of wh-words in Chuj support the view that wh-words are used in two capacities: to generate alternatives, and to create a movement/binding relation.


Cet article étudie les diverses utilisations des mots wh en Chuj, une langue maya peu étudiée du Guatemala. Du point de vue interlinguistique, les mots wh figurent non seulement dans les questions, mais aussi dans d'autres constructions, y compris la quantification wh, les indéfinies et les syntagmes relatifs. Nous montrerons qu'en Chuj, les mots wh sont utilisés pour former des indéfinis (dans certains environnements limités), des quantificateurs universels, des items de libre choix et deux types de syntagmes relatifs substantifs: les définis, mais aussi les indéfinis, qui sont typologiquement plus rares. Nous esquissons une analyse de chaque construction et discutons des généralisations concernant leur distribution. Les utilisations variées des mots wh en Chuj soutiennent l'idée que les mots wh ont deux fonctions: celle de générer des alternatives, et celle de créer une relation de mouvement ou de liage.

© Canadian Linguistic Association/Association canadienne de linguistique 2019 

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First and foremost, we thank Magdalena Torres for generously sharing her language with us. For comments and discussion we would like to thank Scott AnderBois, Louisa Bielig, Elizabeth Carolan, Paulina Elias, Robert Henderson, Justin Royer, Radek Šimík, and especially Jessica Coon, as well as audiences at NELS (2016), WSCLA (2016), LSA (2017), NYU, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, and Yale University. Some findings here were previously reported in Kotek and Erlewine (2016, 2018). This research is supported by grant number WBS R-103-000-135-133 at NUS to the second author.


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