I’ve been volunteering in a conversation class for L2 speakers, and last Thursday a question came up re: questions.
The exercise we were doing was a reverse Q&A. You’re given the answer and you have to construct with the question.
Question: “What is your name?”
Midstream, I became intrigued by a puzzle.
When do we use the “do-operator” to form a question and when do we not?
Here’s a do-operator:
Question: “Where do you live?”
Why do we use a do-operator in ‘Where do you live’ but not in ‘What is your name’?
Only two L2 speakers had come that night, both long-time immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. Although they seemed to be using the do-operator correctly, neither could say how or why they used it when they did. I assume that means they’ve learned most of their English informally, interacting with native speakers.
The young man who volunteers with me — his Spanish seems to be fantastic (jealous) — had no idea, either.
Naturally I became obsessed on the spot, which may not have advanced our L2 speakers’ cause, I realize. Then again, a little linguistics never hurt anyone.
Running through the do-questions in my head — while simultaneously trying to keep the exercise going so as not to short-change the class — I spotted a difference, or thought I did: the presence or absence of a linking verb, or copula. (I learned the term “copula” from Katharine, for the record.)
As I understand it (Katharine will have to weigh in) we use linking verbs when, in a simple clause, the subject and the ‘3rd term’ – the complement – refer to the same thing (or “have the same referent”).
|I am awake.||“I” and “awake” refer to the same thing.|
|NON-LINKING VERB (“Dynamic” verb?)|
|Luke and Lucy like to chase balls.||“Luke-and-Lucy” and “balls” refer to different things.|
So far, so good. All three questions follow the rule I came up with on the fly:
|I am awake.||Are you awake?|
|Luke and Lucy are sleeping.||Are Luke and Lucy sleeping?|
|Luke and Lucy like to chase balls.||Do Luke and Lucy like to chase balls?|
But now I have a problem:
|I am writing this post.||“I” and “this post” refer to different things.|
But the question form doesn’t use a do-operator:
|I am writing this post.||Are you writing this post?|
So what is the do-rule, anyway?
I suspect this page has the answer, but it’s way too hard to read. Way too physically hard.
If you’re going to learn linguistics on the web, graphic design is a must.
Luke and Lucy