Why does English not have a word for "which one out of these"?

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Ithisa
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Why does English not have a word for "which one out of these"?

Post by Ithisa »

There is something that occasionally trips me up as an L2 English speaker. Most English pronouns and pronoun-like words ("correlatives" in esperanto terms) have an "interrogative" version:
- he / she / who
- it / what
- now / then / when
- here / there / where

This can be illustrated by this dialogue:

Alice: Could you call him?
Bob: Call who?

Alice: Could you buy it for me?
Bob: Buy what?

Alice: The keys are there.
Bob: Where?

However, this pattern breaks down here:

Alice: Could you fetch that for me? Not this, that!
Bob: Wh????

"Bob" is often me when my girlfriend asks me to fetch something while vaguely pointing in a direction. I want to say "what" since it looks like "that" the same way "where" is the wh- version of "there", but then stop myself since that'd be ungrammatical.

Why does English work like this? What's the most idiomatic thing for Bob to say? "Which one" sounds weird, and "which" also seems weird.
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LinguistCat
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Re: Why does English not have a word for "which one out of these"?

Post by LinguistCat »

You say they sound weird but "Which one?" is what I go for in that situation and I've also heard "Which?" on occasion as well. So the answer is, English has a word for this, you just think it sounds odd.
Ithisa
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Re: Why does English not have a word for "which one out of these"?

Post by Ithisa »

I think that the problem is that neither "which" nor "which one" can be comfortably said in the same rising, emphatic tone of "Whaaat?", "Whooo?" etc
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Sequor
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Re: Why does English not have a word for "which one out of these"?

Post by Sequor »

Ithisa wrote: 20 Apr 2022 21:18 I think that the problem is that neither "which" nor "which one" can be comfortably said in the same rising, emphatic tone of "Whaaat?", "Whooo?" etc
Eh, I think I've sometimes heard "Which one!?!?" said in a very emphatic way. Sure, the -i- of "which" is probably not extended/elongated, but still, the emphasis can be there.
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Ithisa
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Re: Why does English not have a word for "which one out of these"?

Post by Ithisa »

Sequor wrote: 21 Apr 2022 07:18
Ithisa wrote: 20 Apr 2022 21:18 I think that the problem is that neither "which" nor "which one" can be comfortably said in the same rising, emphatic tone of "Whaaat?", "Whooo?" etc
Eh, I think I've sometimes heard "Which one!?!?" said in a very emphatic way. Sure, the -i- of "which" is probably not extended/elongated, but still, the emphasis can be there.
Yeah, I think that the part that feels weird to me is, I want to say something with the same prosody as "wheeeere?" but "which one" and "which" have nothing but lax vowels that can't take that kind of prosodic shape.

I also find it strange that you have to say "which one", ("which" is almost like a version with "one" dropped?), while with "what?" and "where?" you don't say "what object?" or "which location?". It seems like there's a strange asymmetry here:

- Time question: when / which *time*
- Location question: where / which *place*
- Person question: who / which *person*
- "Pick one" question: ??? / which *one*

I might just chalk this whole thing up to an incorrect "is this idiomatic?" intuition as an L2 speaker, but it does seem like there's something interestingly different about the last case.
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