How are wh-questions formed in Medumba? For Yes/No questions please see that page.

Relevant Medumba Vocabulary











Right edge clause marker

'That', relativizer

Who and WhatEdit


In a wh-question where what serves as a subject, a clefted structure is used. The embedded clause "that saw the dog" is framed by the relativizer "zə" on the left and the right edge clause marker "ɔ" (or its allomorph "lɔ"), on the right.

a a jɯn mʙɯ ɔ
3sg. is who that 3sg. see dog Cl.
  • 'It is who that (s/he) saw the dog?'

ELDER entry for this sentence

The being verb, 'bɒ' can be omitted in this structure.

a a jɯn mʙɯ ɔ
3sg. (is) who that 3sg. go market Cl.
  • 'It is who that (s/he) saw the dog?'

Note that attempting to use it as if it were the subject of a declarative sentence is ungrammatical. The following example illustrates this ungrammatical form.

* jɯn mʙɯ
* who see dog
  • 'Who saw the dog'


When a wh-word acts as an object, it can be fronted or it can be left in situ. The first sentence below illustrates a fronted wh object.

a u ʒu ɔ
3sg. is what that you eat Cl.
  • 'It is what that (you) ate? '

The next sentence illustrates an in situ object.

ariane jɯn ə
what that Ariane see Cl.
  • 'What did Ariane see?'

When, where, howEdit

'Wh'-words of manner always remain in situ. In the following examples, the wh-word is always at the end of the utterance. It is possible that modifiers may be places after the wh-word. his is yet to be investigated.

mʙɯ jiɔ
dog is where
  • Where is the dog?

Note that in this case it is no known if the copula verb "bɒ" can be dropped.

u zi a
2sg. sleep PAST when
  • 'When did you sleep?'

Note that attempting to front 'sɯ' like the English counterpart 'when' will result in an ungramatical sentence. It is not known if you can form a clefted sentence using 'sɯ'.

* u zi a
* when 2sg. sleep PAST
  • 'When did you sleep?'

How questions are simple declarative sentence followed by how, 'ndʒɯkɯ'. It is not clear if there are other grammatical structures using 'ndʒɯkɯ'. We do know that the copula verb 'bo' can be omitted as in the greeting 'andʒɯkɯ', literally "how is it". A more straightforward example is given below.

u ʒu ndʒɯkɯ
2sg. eat how
  • 'How do you eat?'

An interesting note, 'ndʒɯkɯ' seems to contain within it 'kɯ'. We do not have any evidence to analyze it as morphologically complex; however it may be an idea to keep in mind.


Why, 'nuŋkɯ' patterns slightly differently than the other wh-words described thus far. Instead of requiring a clefted structure (such as who, 'kɯ' and what, 'wɯ'), 'nuŋkɯ' can appear either before or after a declarative which is followed by the right edge clause marker. In these cases there is no relative pronoun or subordinate clause.

nuŋkɯ mɛnzwi nɛn tʃwɛt
why woman go farm Cl.
  • 'Why did the woman go to the farm?'
mɛnzwi nɛn tʃwɛt nuŋkɯ
woman go farm Cl. why
  • 'Why did the woman go to the farm?'

Regardless of the position of 'nuŋkɯ', these types of questions are answered with a sentence of the following general form.

mɛnzwi nɛn tʃwɛt numbɯ
woman go farm Cl. because
  • 'The woman went to the farm because...'

Multiple wh-questionsEdit

There seems to be a limited grammaticallity to multiple wh-questions. This is an area needing further work. Thus far the following has been identified as grammatical. Note that I have assumed the copula, "bo" is omitted here.

a zit ngap ze u jun i jo
3sg. is which chicken COMP 2sg. see 3sg.obj. where
  • 'Which chicken did you see where?'
  • 'It is which chicken that you saw (it) where?'


Island ConstraintsEdit