Monday 6 February 2012

where is everybody?

Despite a light fall of snow, I turned up at my running club yesterday morning as usual for the social run/jog. In view of the slippery ground, though, we decided on this occasion just to make it a brisk walk.

On a normal Sunday morning we expect 60 to 70 people for the social. (The more serious runners will have already set off half an hour or an hour earlier.) But yesterday at starting time there were a mere twenty or so.

As someone said,
• ˈWhere \is everybody?

Your task for today is to account for the tonicity of this sentence. Why does the intonation nucleus go on is?

When, years ago, I discussed this type of sentence with Japanese EFL students, they pointed out, quite rightly, that the most important word seemed to be where. Why does it not bear the nucleus?

The fact is that it doesn’t. Not only in English, but apparently in all the Germanic languages, the nucleus in this type of sentence goes on the verb ‘to be’ — even though, on the face of it, this word has very little semantic importance. It’s not as if we were asking where everyone is as opposed to where they are not. Nor are we asking where they are as opposed to where they were. That is, in this case the verb is not marked for polarity or tense (which is what is usually the case when the nucleus is on the verb ‘to be’).

Perhaps there is no better explanation than to say that it is arbitrary, idiomatic.

In my book English Intonation I included a section (3.18) entitled “Wh + to be”.
The fact is that it would be utterly unidiomatic in English to say
• ˈHow are you?
or (absent any contrastive context)
• ˈTell me ˈwhat it is.

Just as in English you might ask
• ˈWhere ˈis she?
so in German you would ask
• ˈWo ˈist sie?

So much for cases where the subject is a personal pronoun. If, on the other hand, the subject is a demonstrative or a proper name or a lexical NP, then it will by default bear the nucleus, while the verb ‘to be’ is not only unaccented but usually (in a direct question) contracted.
• ˈWho’s ˈthat?
• ˈHow’s ˈMary?
• ˈHow’s your ˈwife?
• ˈTell me ˈwhat that ˈsquiggle is.

All the examples of pronoun subjects that I put in this section of my book involved personal pronouns. But not all pronouns are personal pronouns. In fact everybody is a good example of a non-personal pronoun, and I ought to have included an example of that too. The deaccenting rule, with accenting of ‘to be’, applies to everybody (or everyone) just as it does to other pronouns (except demonstrative ones).

You may care to consider also the similar behaviour of pronominal all and both:
• ˈWhere ˈare they all?
• ˈHow ˈare they both?


  1. Only yesterday I went through that particular section in your book!
    Thanks a lot for the update.

  2. FWIW, the nucleus goes on the verb in Polish, too, as long as the pronoun is dropped, as in Gdzie jesteś?. (Same for Spanish dónde estás, I think.) So it may be a bit more widespread than just Germanic.

    (On the other hand, I have a feeling that Russian где ты? would be different; but it lacks the verb...)

    However, once you add wszyscy 'everybody', the nucleus will go elsewhere.

  3. @ wjarek:

    "Same for Spanish dónde estás, I think."

    That's right (as long as you drop the pronoun, of course).
    The correspondence would be:

    ˈWhere \ARE you? - ¿ˈDónde es\TÁS?
    ˈWhere are \YOU? - ¿ˈDónde estás \TÚ?

  4. But compare ¿ˈDónde está us\TED?, which can be equivalent to both ˈWhere are \YOU? and ˈWhere \ARE you?

  5. I know we usually think of contrastive stress as the marked exception, but I do feel that there's a feeling here of avoiding contrast.

    Where's ↘everybody? for me sounds right only as the culmination of a sequence
    Where's ↘Tom? Where's ↘Dick? Where's ↘Harry? Where's ↘everybody

    Whereis everybody? for me sounds strange except in the unlikely sequence:
    How is everybody? Come to think of it, ↘where is everybody?

    For me, both are marked utterances with contrast signalled by stress on everybody and where respectively. So Where ↘iseverybody? feels unmarked in that it avoids the contrasts covered by the two alternatives.

    • ˈWho’s ˈthat?
    • ˈHow’s ˈMary?
    • ˈHow’s your ˈwife?
    • ˈTell me ˈwhat that ˈsquiggle is.

    For me, the expressions bearing stress are new information in implied contrast with whatever else they might be. By contrast, stressed BE implies given information

    What a strange man! Who ↘is that?
    • His wife was there.
    Really? How ↘is Mary?
    • Mary sends her love.
    Oh thank you! How ↘is your ˈwife?
    • It's just a meaningless mark to me. Tell me what that squiggle ↘is.

    Contraction of the BE form makes the new information meaning possible, but it doesn't make the given information meaning necessary. We can say

    • ˈWho is ˈthat?
    • ˈHow is ˈMary?
    • ˈHow is your ˈwife?

    even though the versions with contraction are more frequent.

    • ˈWhere ↘are they all?
    • ˈHow ↘are they both?

    For me, and I think for everybody, stress on all or both is impossible. I would have to say

    • ˈWhere ↘are they? ↘All of them, I mean.
    • ˈHow ↘are they? ↘Both of them, not just Mary.

    To stress the interrogative would be parallel to the effect in Where is everybody?. Thus:

    • ↘How are they all? Come to think of it ↘where are they all?
    • ↘Where are they both? Come to think of it ↘how are they both?

    I'm not sure i would call these 'pronominal all and both'. They're postmodifiers of the pronoun they. Another way of looking at them is that they are quasi-adverbs.

  6. Thanks, David.
    Just printing, printing...

  7. Allthough I made a note to my calendar for writing a short post to this blog on weekends, but again this is an interesting point also for the reason that I created the page ‘pronominal’ in Wikipedia and for the reason 2) that the most content is still mine and is not correct as far as what other linguists are saying in various publications.

    I am not sure, however, if I would call these as quasi-adverbs, but David’s point “both the ‘all’ and ‘both’’ as the postmodifiers and John’s point as the pronominal seem worth to make a change on my edit on ‘pronominal’ in the WP, also for the reason that it comes first in almost all public searches if anyone searches ‘pronominal’.

    The problem we have here is how we can narrow the definition meaningfully. I think, yes, via adjective classes of words as postmodifiers--in a sense of deadjectival, if they are in their bare form to make their noun conventions—or pronominal, if they are in their full form to refer their antecedents.

    But I am not sure if either a single class of word or classes of words that do not refer their antecedent would be good enough to call ‘pronominal’.

  8. As usual, American English seems to be a completely separate language when it comes to intonation.

    For me, Where IS everybody? works because of the unexpectedness of the situation. I'd say it if I walked into a friend's apartment and found just one person where I expected five. But if I had no particular expectation on this occasion, I might ask casually Where's EVErybody? 'Where are the residents?'

    The first six examples from 3.18 seem entirely right to me, but each of the three final examples has its own story. I would say How would it be if we met for LUNCH?, since that's the salient point. How would it BE if we met for lunch? is not a request, but a rather odd question meaning 'What would it be like if we met for lunch?'

    Likewise, That man over there, who IS he? would be appropriate with the subtext 'Is he really [famous person]?' But if I'm just referring to someone my interlocutor knows but I don't (which frequently happens to me due to my prosopagnosia), I would ask That man over there, who's HE? (more natural: The man).

    In the last example, the neutral version would be When was it that you came back from CANada? If I had already been told but needed a reminder, I'd say WHEN was it that you came back from Canada?, with low tone rather than high tone on when and high tone on -da. All the other nuclear tones are high. (For me, but probably not for most Americans, this would be more natural in uncleft form, You came back from Canada WHEN?, with low-rising tone on when.) Only if I were annoyed by my interlocutor's failure to mention an essential point, or trying to catch him in an inconsistency, would I say When WAS it that you came back from Canada?, and it would be interpreted as rude or even hostile: I'd expect it during a cross-examination in court.

    As for How are you?, the phatic question is HOW are YOU?. The response to it is FINE, how are YOU?, where you is contrastive. But How ARE you? is not phatic but sincere: 'Are you feeling all right?'

    I could go on....

    1. @ John Cowan As usual, American English seems to be a completely separate language when it comes to intonation.

      I really doubt this. I think it is more to do with what we consider an unmarked context. All your examples work in BrE, too. And please note that my example was not, as you write, How would it BE if we met for lunch? (which is indeed rather odd), but the slower-paced How would it BE | if we met for LUNCH?, two ips with two nuclei, which is surely OK in AmE just as it is in BrE.

      My considered view is that the intonation of AmE is remarkably similar to that of mainstream BrE (disregarding trivial surface differences of tone shape etc). And, as I suggested, the phenomena discussed today seem to be of even wider validity (pan-Germanic at least).

    2. Well, you're the linguist and I'm only the informant, but I must say that How would it BE | if we met for LUNCH? makes no sense at all to me — I cannot even determine what sort of speech act it is supposed to be.

    3. I don't know how to respond to that. Could it be that How would it be if... (to make a suggestion) is a BrE-only idiom? Do you feel more at home with How about if we met for lunch??
      Do you want me to make a voice recording of this (in BrE) perfectly ordinary pattern?

    4. It's only the two-ip version that sounds strange to me. The single-ip version, How would it be if we met for LUNCH?, is just fine.

      Google Ngrams says that How would it be if has the same historical curve in AmE and BrE, with peaks around 1930 and 1960; if anything, its peak absolute frequency is somewhat higher in AmE.

    5. Oops, saved too soon. How 'bout if we met for LUNCH? is likewise fine. A recording of the two-ip would be appreciated.

  9. Ahem! The plot seems to be beginning to sort of thicken, so to speak!!
    (I will also print your comment John C. - after all you're almost like a father to me.)

  10. Thanks, John W., for preventing the plot from thickening.
    BTW, I liked the photo in the heading. Very poetic.

  11. An interpretation that covers John Cowan's example as well as John W's is that the stress/intonation falls on the POLARITY. The context — unspoken — is that 'everybody', meaning 'the majority of people' isn't here. So the implied contrast is something like:

    Here is where everybody ↗isn't so where ↘is everybody?


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