A case for a unified analysis of question constructions in English, Sinhala and Tamil


  • W.A.T. Weerasooriya Department of English and Linguistics, University of Sri Jayewardenepura
  • M.G.L. Ananda Department of English and Linguistics, University of Sri Jayewardenepura


Questions, that play a vital role in communication, are classified in every language, as content questions (Wh-questions) and polar questions (Yes/No questions), depending on the nature of the information they elicit. The common and deviant phonological, morphological, and syntactic properties used in the construction of these two question types in the three languages used in Sri Lanka - English, Sinhala and Tamil – provide a fascinating topic for an investigation. While all three languages are equally represented in the present investigation, the morphological and syntactic properties used in the construction of questions in all three languages are studied with reference to written data gathered from writings and, in addition, the phonological properties, with reference to vocal recordings. Further, both written and spoken data are analysed to identify the identical and non-identical elements in the phonological, morphological, and syntactic properties, that are peculiar to the languages concerned. With respect to morpho-syntactic characteristics, the Wh-words in content questions in both Sinhala and Tamil remain in-situ as opposed to those in English that undergo movement. Regarding Yes/No questions, Sinhala employs the particle –da, while English employs the strategy of –do- insertion or auxiliary movement, but Tamil realizes a Yes/No question with phonological prominence in the clause final position. It was found that there are very significant prosodic properties common in the three languages despite their surface morpho-syntactic differences. With respect to phonological characteristics in all three languages: the Wh-words in content questions receive phonological stress; the clause final position in Yes/No questions receives prominence; and the clause final word receives prominence in echo-questions.

KEYWORDS: questions, phonology, morphology, syntax