Interrogating Nouns

What’s really difficult for me is figuring out how to ask questions of words.

My husband just does it and I blink at him.  It is so completely foreign to me as an English speaker.

Here’s what I mean.  The way he was taught in school to figure out what form a noun is in is to ask questions of the noun. The word will answer the appropriate question for the form it is in.

So, let’s take kaķis, a cat.  The dative of kaķis is kaķim, which roughly corresponds to: to/for a cat.

Let’s say you’ve never encountered this word before. (As a beginner, this happens a lot.)  How do you figure out which form it is in?

As an English speaker, I look at the ending, it is -im, then look at / remember the chart of endings for nouns, hmm, -im can only be 1st person dative.

My husband, on the other hand, when attempting to explain to me how to ask questions of words, would look at the noun and say, “Kas? Kaķis. Kā? Kaķa. Kam? Kaķim.“  He is looking for the question that makes sense when kaķim is the answer. The question: To/For which/what/whom? makes sense when answered with to/for a cat. The other two questions mean “What? Who?” and “Of whose?” …and you can see those don’t make sense to be answered that way.

Each of the six major forms of nouns has an associated question word. Vocative, the seventh form, does not have an associated question word.

Why is this so important to understand? It is necessary because all sentence analysis is based on using this method of asking questions, which can get quite complicated. It is also important because the question words themselves are an integral part of the language – asking a question helps you figure out what’s going on in the sentence.

How does this work? Let’s take a look.

For these next few examples, pele (mouse) is in the nominative form. It is the subject of our imaginary sentence. Watch how questions and endings give context and meaning, even without more specifics.  For each form of kaķis, we’ll ask the associated question to see what’s going on between the cat and mouse.

  • Kaķa pele —-  Kā pele? Kaķa.       — Whose mouse? The cat’s.
  • Kaķim pele —-  Kam pele? Kaķim.  — Who is the mouse for? The cat.
  • Kaķī pele —-  Kur pele? Kaķī.       — Where is the mouse? Inside the cat.

Because every noun has more associated information due to its ending than just its definition, we can learn that by asking questions about it to see how it answers.

Vocabulary in this post:»
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