The wh- questions in sign languages crosslinguistically can be seen in clause-initial or clause-final position or in both positions. They can be seen in one of the positions in question sentence, like in the example from Austrian Sign Language (ÖGS):

wo    ball
where ball  

Where is the ball?

(Schalber, 2006, p. 142)

Schalber (2006) has pointed in her paper that clause-initial is the default position for the wh- signs in ÖGS. However, the wh-signs can be seen in both positions at the same time. This means that they can be doubled, as in the example below:

was    will    kaufen   was  
what   want    buy      what

What do you want to buy?

(Schalber, 2006, p. 143)

She has not mention whether there is a condition or not in which doubled questions has occured. So, my question is whether doubled questions are abtirary. Is there a condition in which they have occured?

  • I could not manage to show nonmanual tiers in questions, she has indicated that the first question sign has the same nonmanual with the first example while the second question sign has variety in nonmanuals. May 20, 2012 at 13:58

2 Answers 2


As for wh-phrase placement in general in American Sign Language anyway, the wh-phrase may occur in clause initial or final position if it corresponds with the subject, but it can only occur clause finally if it corresponds with the object. I'm fairly certain that a double wh-phrase can correspond with either a subject or object. In American Sign Language when a second wh-phrase is used it is sometimes/often for emphasis, as in the difference between the english "Who does John love?" and "John loves who??". But this isn't the only time when it is used. I think it is mostly optional, but as with anything linguistically optional I think it carries nuances, although I don't know what they might be, sorry. If you are looking for more detailed information I recommend chapter 7 in The Syntax of American Sign Language: Functional categories and hierarchical structure. by Carol Neidle; Judy Kegl; Dawn MacLaughlin; Benjamin Bahan; and Robert Lee (2000). It only covers American Sign Language but it might help.


Jairo Nunes and Ronice Müller de Quadros have an article (in the theoretical framework of minimalist syntax) arguing that wh-doubling in sign languages (in their cases Brazilian Sign Language) obeys the same rule as in spoken languages: that is to say that a morphological reanalysis of the higher wh-element (in the case of sign language, presumably for reasons of focus) modifies the treatment of the chain formed by the doubled wh-element, triggering the overt manifestation of both elements of the chains. Here is a link:


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