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Thread: What?: "to believe" vs "to know"

  1. #11
    Curious Conlanger syntagmatic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hephaestus View Post
    "What does John know Mary bought?"

    Consider a spy movie--or Christmas. John knows Mary bought things, but someone wants to know what John knows Mary bought. Maybe they're hoping he doesn't know about something she bought. Questioning what someone knows about another person's actions is legitimate and grammatically correct.
    My professor says that we're most likely using a "choice function" strategy to approach the factive sentences (know, regret, etc.) where you use the wh-word as denoting elements in a presuppositional set (i.e. "among the presents that Mary bought, which items does John know that Mary has bought?"). He compares this to another example, where you can say "who bought what?" but it's weird to say "what did who buy?", but by using the choice function strategy and making it denote a subset of a presuppositional set, you can say "which item did which person buy?" He said there are other theories to explain such phenomena, but that's his take on it.

    Also, interestingly, in Chinese the verb "zhidao" for "to know" only has the possible interpretation of "John knows what Mary bought", not "What does John know Mary bought?" There are verbs, however, that don't have the same restriction as "to know", and since Chinese has no overt wh-movement, it can cause the sentence to have many interpretations that could be expressed in English with wh-movement. So with the verb "jide" or "to remember", for example, "John jide Mary mai-le shenme" (John remember Mary buy-ASP what) can be interpreted both as "John remembers what Mary bought" and "What does John remember Mary bought?"

    Here's a more extreme example with the verb "gaosu" ("to tell") which can have FOUR different interpretations:
    Zhangsan gaosu Lisi shei mai-le sheme
    (Zhangsan tell Lisi who bought what)
    1. Who is the person x and what is the thing y such that Zhangsan told Lisi x
    bought y? (direct question)
    2. Zhangsan told Lisi who is the person x and what is the thing y such that x
    bought y. (indirect question)
    3. Who is the person x such that Zhangsan told Lisi what is the thing y such
    that x bought y? (direct question)
    4. What is the thing y such that Zhangsan told Lisi who is the person x such
    that x bought y? (direct question)
    The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
    For—put them side by side—
    The one the other will contain
    With ease—and You—beside—
    The Brain is deeper than the sea—
    For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
    The one the other will absorb—
    As Sponges—Buckets—do—
    The Brain is just the weight of God—
    For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
    And they will differ—if they do—
    As Syllable from Sound

    —Emily Dickinson

  2. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by syntagmatic View Post
    So I'm proofreading some handouts for one of the syntax professors, and I saw something interesting. I'll spare all the linguistic jargon and just see what you guys think.

    Basically, you have verbs like "know (that)", "regret (that)", and "understand (that)", which indicate that what follows is true. And you have other verbs like "think (that)", "say (that)", and "believe (that)", which indicate that what follows may not necessarily be true.

    It appears that you can't say "what" with the former verbs, but you can say it with the latter... but why? Do you agree with this judgement? Do you think there is some underlying cause stemming from the logic of the statements or something else? And for people who speak other languages here, is this also the case in other languages?

    Example Sentences: *=ungrammatical
    John thinks that Mary bought a book. > What does John think Mary bought?
    John believes that Mary bought a book. > What does John believe Mary bought?
    John said that Mary bought a book. > What did John say Mary bought?
    John knows that Mary bought a book. *> What does John know Mary bought?
    John regrets that he bought a book. *> What does John regret that he bought?
    John understands that Mary hates books. *> What does John understand that Mary hates?
    Outstanding. I Believe with Capital B in Allah. The Qur'an came supposedly almost Directly from God, and is Gods word. Unlike they say The Bible is Inspired to the Apostles. We have to Believe in The Bible too, and therein are many good things but also sometimes catastropic things. It is strangely unknown but The Qur'an contains many scientific proofs of Allah is the Creator, science generally. The Bible in my experience is just Philosophical. I think Allah is Quantum Physics - or very close to that. This is previously unconfirmed, but today science is catching up with The Qur'an.

  3. #13
    Senior Member Guess Who's Avatar
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    @syntagmatic

    The statement "John knows that Mary bought a book" is something an omniscient narrator would say. No-one would make such a statement in real life so turning it into a question is just weird.

    A more realistic conversational statement conveying that information would be "Mary told John that she bought a book" or "Mary bought a book". Turning these statements into questions sounds fine.
    Big change is coming

  4. #14
    Meae Musae Servus Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guess Who View Post
    The statement "John knows that Mary bought a book" is something an omniscient narrator would say. No-one would make such a statement in real life so turning it into a question is just weird.
    Not true. I think you're being mislead by the noun and overlooking the structure. The structure is the point. Two ex-parte agents discussing John and Mary might have the following exchange:

    A: "So what does John know about it?"
    B: "John knows that Mary bought a book."

    If your mind still thinks no one would say it in life, try replacing the noun "book" with "gun".

    An omniscient narrator wouldn't use that phrasing because it is present tense. Narration is done past tense or things get awkward.

    The exercise was predicated on the belief no one would say it. That's what is meant by labeling it ungrammatical. The question was why would that be ungrammatical. What makes it different from similar constructions that are more clearly grammatical. "No one would say it" isn't an answer, it's a restatement of the problem.
    Last edited by Hephaestus; 01-17-2020 at 06:08 PM.
    "Just because it's 2020 doesn't mean everyone has perfect vision."--catchphrase of a fictional comedian in some movie

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