LINGUIST List 5.988

Thu 15 Sep 1994

Sum: Who is your name

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  1. , Revised summary: Who is your name

Message 1: Revised summary: Who is your name

Date: Fri, 9 Sep 94 09:16:36 EDTRevised summary: Who is your name
From: <>
Subject: Revised summary: Who is your name

My query about languages which say 'who is your name', 'who are you
called', or the like, was prompted by my reading a Sumerian grammar
in which an example of this is given and then apparently taken as
evidence that the scribe who wrote the text in question (in the Old
Babylonian period) was confused about the proper usage of Sumerian
words for 'who' and 'what'. It occurs to me, on the other hand,
that this is a perfectly normal usage in many languages, and as
such, it could serve to indicate exactly the opposite, namely, that
the scribe in question was using Sumerian exactly right, and that
the problem was rather than the European (and Semitic) languages
typically known to Sumerologists do not use these constructions
(although I have a feeling, which I have not verified, that
Classical Greek may have used it). Anyway, here is the list of
examples I obtained, for which I am grateful. Any additional data
will also be appreciated. Great thanks to the contributors,
although in some cases, I regret that I only know them by their
email address or first name. [Please, guys, tell who all are your

Amharic and other Ethiopian languages (Mike Gasser

sIm-Ih man nEw?
name-your(sing.masc.) who it:is

Similarly in other Ethiopian Semitic, e.g., Tigrinya: SIm-ka mEn

I: high central vowel (barred i)
E: mid central vowel
S: esh

Eskimo (Willem de Reuse (WDEREUSECCIT.ARIZONA.EDU))

Siberian Yupik Eskimo, as spoken on Saint Lawrence Island, Alaska:

Kinangaawa aatghen? "Who is your name?"
kina-nga-u-a ategh-n
who-?-be-INT.3sg name-POS.2sg

Taba (= East Makian), a previously undescribed Austronesian
language from eastern Indonesia

Memeu so alho-e?
2pPOSS name who-QUEST

Mongolian ( = Jan-Olof Svantesson):

"What is your name?" would be (transliterated Cyrillic:) <tany ner
xen gedeg we>, (phonol. transcr:) /tani nir xiN gi-dg we/ (N="ng",
=schwa) (your name who say-HABITUAL QUESTION), i.e. something like
"Who is your name usually called?".

Indonesian (,,
David Gil):

 Siapa namamu? or Namanya siapa?
 who name+2nd p part.

Javanese (,
 jenenge sapa?
 name + def. particle /sapa = who

Maaori (Laurie Bauer):

 Ko wai to ingoa?
 equative-particle + who? +
 singular-second-person-neutral-class-possessive-pronoun + name
 "What is your name?"

Maaori-influenced English in New Zealand (Laurie Bauer):

 Primary school children in NZ regularly ask Who is your name?
 This is usually attributed to Maaori interference, and it is
 certainly part of the English of people who are influenced by
 Maaori; but it is also heard from people who have no obvious
 direct influence from Maaori (such as my own white
 middle-class children, at one stage).

Swahili (Ralf Grosserhode, Chet Creider, Karen Peterson)

 Jina lako nani? - Who is your name?
 Unaitwa nani? - Who are you called?

Sakao, a.k.a. Sakau, spoken in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu (J. Guy):

 aase-n hi? name-his who? (Port-Olry dialect)
 nwase-n hi? (Lowerie dialect)

Tolomako, also spoken in Espiritu Santo (J. Guy):

 na gise-na i sei? <art.> name-his <art.> who?

(Sakao /e/ = [e], Tolomako /g/ = <gamma>)

Marrithiyel, Marramaninjsji, Marringarr (of the Western Daly
 sub-group), Ngan'gityemerri (of the Southern Daly sub-group),
 and possibly other languages of the Daly River region,
 Northern Australia (Ian Green):

 e.g. Marrithiyel
 nginimba fuma nanj
 who name 2sPronoun(=Possessive)
 "What" is your name ?

 e.g. Ngan'gityemerri
 piwarri nyinyi kene
 name 2sPro who
 "What" is your name ?

Kiribati (=Gilbertese, Kiribatese (Martin Silverman, Shelly

 antai arana? what is his name?
 who name-3s

A special acknowledgement to Joanne Sher Grumet for calling my
attention to the Romany dialect Kalderash:

 Kasko san? "Whose [sic] are you."

As Paul Chapin and other suggested, this must presumably have
originated as a request for last name.

Thus, we find:

Greek (Amalia Arvaniti (

In rural areas of Greece [pjanu ise] 'whose are [you]' or [pjanu
ise si] 'whose are you' asks for the name (or nickname) of the
family you belong to.

Mongolian ( = Jan-Olof Svantesson):

The Mongols have only one name, but add the father`s (or sometimes
mother`s) name in the genitive before the given name to form the
full official name, for instance the Mongolian president is called
Punsalmaagijn Ochirbat, "Punsalmaa's Ochirbat". If you want to know
a persons full name you can ask <ta xenij xen baina?> /ta xin-i xiN
bain/ "Whose who are you?".

Also thanks to Raymond Tang and Randy Harris for writing in on this


Gjerdman and Ljungberg "The Language of the Swedish
Coppersmith Gipsy Johan Dimitri Taikon" Lundequista/Uppsala (1963).
Green, Ian 1989 Marrithiyel: a language of the Daly River region of
Australia's Northern Territory. Unpublished PhD thesis, ANU.

Reid, Nicholas John 1990 Ngan'gityemerri: a language of the Daly
River region of the Northern Territory of Australia. Unpublished
PhD thesis, ANU.
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