Question particles in Basque

Sergio Monforte


This article proposes separate analyses for the question particles -a and al in Basque, which occur only in polarity questions, within the framework of Generative Grammar. I will propose that the former one, used in the eastern dialects, is the head of FiniteP and that the latter one, used in the central dialects, occupies the head of Particle Phrase located between TP and the CP field. I provide the following evidence in support of this dual analysis: 1) -a can be used with ote but no other particle can appear at the same time with al; 2) al is compatible with allocutivity but -a is not; 4) and, finally, al can be used in embedded clauses, whereas -a cannot. The fact that -a is not allowed to occur in indirect questions and that it is incompatible with the allocutive verbal paradigm shows that it is in complementary distribution with the head of CP and, therefore, that -a occupies such a head; on the other hand, the impossibility of al to appear with other particles suggest that they must occur in the same position and, since it can appear in embedded questions and with allocutive forms, it does not occupy the head of the CP, but the head of a phrase below.


syntax; question particles; morphology; microvariation

Full Text:



Adger, David, 2003, Core Syntax. A minimalist Approach. Oxford University Press, New York.

Albizu, Pablo, 1991, “Sobre la existencia del Movimiento Largo de Núcleos en Euskera”. Eskuizkribua, Instituto Universitario Ortega y Gasset, Madrid.

Arregi, Karlos & Andrew Nevins, (2012), Morphotactics. Basque auxiliaries and the structure of spellout. Springer, Dordrecht; New York.

Aurrekoetxea, Gotzon, Iñaki Gaminde & Aitor Iglesias, 2011, “Corpus based prosodic variation in Basque: y/n questions marked with the particle al”. Estudios de Fonética Experimental, XX, 11-31.

Azkue, Resurreccion María. 1923. Morfología vasca. Euskaltzaindia.

Bailey, Laura, 2013, The Syntax of Question Particles. Newcastle University.

Bayer, Jusef & Hans Obenauer, 2011, “Discourse particles, clause structure, and question types”. The Linguistic Review 28, 449-491.

Bayer, Josef & Andreas Trotzke. 2015. “The derivation and interpretation of left peripheral discourse particles.” In J. Bayer, R. Hinterholz & A. Trotzke (Eds.) ¨ Discourse-oriented Syntax, 13-40. Amsterdam : John Benjamins.

Camino, Iñaki, 2009, “Mugako hiztun eta aldaerak ipar-mendebaleko Zuberoan”. Fontes Linguae Vasconum 41, 111. n., 153-218.

Cardinaletti Anna, 2011, “German and Italian Modal Particles and Clause Structure”. Linguistic Review 28 (4) : 493-531.

Cinque, Guglielmo, 1999, Adverbs and functional heads: a cross-linguistic perspective, Oxford University Press, New York.

Coniglio, Marco & Iulia Zegrean, 2010, Splitting up Force: evidence from discourse particles. In GIST 2 Conference :Main Clause Phenomena. CRISSP & GISP, Universiteit Gent.

Coyos, Jean Baptiste, 1999, Le parler basque souletin des Arbailles: Une approche de l'ergativité. L'Harmattan, Paris.

Duffield, Nigel, 2007, “Aspects of Vietnamese clausal structure: separating tense from assertion.” Linguistics, 765-814.

Egg, Markus & Johannes Mursell. 2016. “The syntax and semantics of discourse particles.” Discourse Particles. Formal approaches to their syntax and semantics, 15-48. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

Elordieta, Gorka, 1997, Morphosyntactic Feature Chains and Phonological Domains. University of Southern California.

Elordieta, Arantzazu, 2001, Verb movement and constituent permutation in Basque. LOT, Utrech.

Etchebest, Xantiana. 2014. Zer eragin du Ikastolak Xiberotar alokutiboaren gainean?. Final Masters Dissertation. UPPA.

Euskaltzaindia [The Basque Royal Academy], 1987, Euskal gramatika: lehen urratsak II. Euskaltzaindia, Bilbo.

Euskaltzaindia [The Basque Royal Academy], 2011, Orotariko Euskal Hiztegia, Bilbo. Euskaltzaindia. Available online:

Etxepare, Ricardo, 2010, “Omen bariazioan”. In B. Fernández, P. Albizu & R. Etxepare (arg.) Euskara eta euskarak: aldakortasun sintaktikoa aztergai, EHU, Gipuzkoako Foru Aldundia, Bilbao : [Donostia].

Goenaga, Patxi, 2009, “Hauta-galderez”. ASJU 43, 381-404.

Hack, Franziska Maria. 2014. “The Particle Po In The Varieties Of Dolomitic Ladin Grammaticalisation From A Temporal Adverb Into An Interrogative Marker.” Studia linguistica: A journal of general linguistics, 68-1, 49-76

Haddican, William, 2006 “Sentence polarity and word order in Basque.” In: The Linguistic Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, p. 87-124.

Haddican, William, 2008, "Euskararen espez-buru-osagarri hurrenkeraren aldeko argudio batzuk". In I. Arteatx, X. Artiagoitia, A. Elordieta (arg.), Antisimetriaren Hipotesia vs Buru-parametroa: euskararen oinarrizko hurrenkera ezbaian, EHU: Bilbo, 87-124.

Haegeman, Liliane, 2014, “West flemish verb-based discourse markers and the articulation of the speech act layer”. Studia Linguistica: A Journal of General Linguistics. 68, 1, 116-139.

Hagstrom, Paul (2004). “Particle movement in Sinhala and Japanese”. In Dayal, V., and A. Mahajan (eds.), Clause Structure in South Asian Languages, Dordrecht: Kluwer. 227-252.

Hualde, Jose Ignacio. & Jon Ortiz de Urbina, 2003, A grammar of Basque. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin.

Kuong, Io-Kei Joaquim, 2008, “Yes/no question particles revisited: the grammatical functions of mo4, me1, and maa3”. Proceedings of the 20th North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics (NACCL-20), The Ohio State University, Ohio, 715-733.

Kuwabara, Kazuki, 2013, “Peripheral effects in Japanese questions and the fine structure of CP”. Lingua 126, 92-119.

Li, Boya, 2006, Chinese Final Particles and the Syntax of the Periphery. LOT, Utrech.

Laka, M.Itziar. 1990. Negation in syntax: on the nature of functional categories and projections. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Littell, Patrick, Lisa Matthewson & Tyler Peterson. 2010. “On the semantics of Conjectural Questions.” In T. Peterson & U. Sauerland (eds.) Evidence fromEvidentials, 98-104. University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics 28.

McCloskey, James, 2005, “A note on predicates and heads in Irish clausal syntax”. In: Carnie, Andrew, Heidi Harley and Sheila Ann Dooley (arg.), Verb First: On the syntax of verb-initial languages. xiv, 155-174.

Mensching, Guido, 2015, “New Insights on the Question Particle a in Sardinian”. Isogloss, 7-40.

Miyagawa, Shigeru, 2012, “Agreements that occur mainly in the main clause.” In L. Aelbrecht (ed. and introd.); L. Haegeman, (ed. and introd.); R. Nye (ed. and introd.); Main Clause Phenomena: New Horizons. Amsterdam, Netherlands; Benjamins, 79-111.

Monforte, Sergio. 2015. Galdera-partikulak euskaraz. Final Masters Dissertation. UPV/EHU.

Ortiz de Urbina, Jon, 1993, “Checking Domains in Basque and Breton”, ASJU 27-3, 751-775.

Ortiz de Urbina, 1999, “Focus Phrases, Force Phrases and Left Heads in Basque”. Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science, 4, John Benjamins, 179-194.

Oyharçabal, Bernard, 1993, “Verb agreement with nonarguments: on allocutive agreement”. In J. I. Hualde & J. Ortiz de Urbina (arg.) Generative Stuides in Basque Linguistics, John Benjamins, 89-114.

Paul, Waltraud & Victor Junnan Pan. 2017. “What you see is what you get: Chinese sentence-final particles as head-final complementizers.” In J. Bayer & V. Struckmeier (Eds.) Discourse particles. Formal approaches to their syntax and semantics, 49-77, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.

Prieto, Pilar & Gemma Rigau, 2007, “The Syntax-Prosody Interface: Catalan interrogative sentences headed by que”. Journal of Portuguese Linguistics, 6-2, 29-59.

de Rijk, Rudolf. 1969. “Is Basque an S.O.V. Language?” Fontes Linguae Vasconum 1. 319-351

de Rijk, Rudolf. 2008, Standard basque: a progressive grammar. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Rivero, Maria Luisa. 1993, “Finiteness and second position in Long Head Movement languages: Breton and Slavic”. Paper read at the Lunch April 1993 meeting of Eurotyp Project Group 3.

Rizzi, Luigi. 1997, “The Fine Structure of the Left Periphery”. In L. Haegeman (arg.) Elements of Grammar, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 281-337.

Rizzi, Luigi. 2001, “On the Position “Int(errogative)” in the Left Periphery of the Clause”. In G.Cinque and G.Salvi, eds., Current Studies in Italian Syntax. Essays offered to Lorenzo Renzi. 287-296. Amsterdam: Elsevier North-Holland.

Saeed, John Ibrahim. 2000. “The functions of focus in Somali.” Lingua Posnaniensis, 42: 133-143.

Scherf, Nathalie. 2016. “The syntax of Swedish modal particles.” Discourse Particles. Formal approaches to their syntax and semantics, 78-99. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

Uriagereka, Juan. 1995. “An F Position in Western Romance.” In K. Kiss (ed.): Discourse configurational languages, 153-175. New York: Oxford University Press.

Xiang, Xuehua. 2012. “External information processing versus property ascertaining: A discourse-pragmatic study of three yes/no question particles in Shishan (Hainan Island, China).” Text & Talk 32-2, 225-280.

Zuazo, Koldo. 2014. Euskalkiak. Elkar, Donostia.

Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM
Copyright (c) 2019 Sergio Monforte