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There is a pronominal adverb in many germanic languages that is a conjunction of the descendants of the proto-germanic words *hwar (where) + *furi (for/fore) which means something very similar to "for what" (and not "for where"), and similarly there is a pronominal adverb in many germanic languages that is a conjunction of the descendants of the proto-germanic words *þar (there) + *furi (for/fore) which mean something very similar to "for that" (not "for there").

Some examples:

  • English:
    • "wherefore" functionally means "for what [reason]"
    • "therefore" functionally means "for that [reason]"
  • Afrikaans
    • "waarvoor" functionally means "vir wat" / "vir watter rede"
    • "daarvoor" functionally means "vir dit" / "vir daardie rede"
  • Dutch
    • "waarvoor" functionally means "voor wat"
    • "daarvoor" functionally means "voor dat"

Similar examples exists in Norwegian bokmål "hvorfor" for "for hva", "derfor" for "for det" or "for at". German "wofür" for "für was" and "dafür" for "für das". There is also related "herefore" and "hiervoor" that is incredibly similar to "therefore" and ilk.

The question is why are the conjunctions not of descendants of the proto-germanic words *hwat (what) + *furi (for/fore) and *þat (that) + *furi (for/fore) instead?

I guess there is no way to know for sure but any additional info on this matter would be welcome.

The following may also be somewhat related to this:

  • Norwegian bokmål "hvor" which means where in general and how (to what degree) in specific cases.
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    reminds of wer oder was; wem oder woher??? (OHG wiu, moder grammar says wem oder was, but nobody uses was for dative of origin, nor neuter dative es, though dem). – vectory Feb 10 at 7:27
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    Anyway, since nobody's answering, I'll have a go at just guessing: Proto-Germanic certainly had cases (which is shown by German still having cases), and it actually conflated the dative with the old locative. Now, if prepositions like *furi required a dative case, at least in come circumstances, that would make it natural to use pronouns in a case that looks the same as the locative. Now locative is completely done, I believe, but these compounds are pretty sturdy, as shown by many language keeping them. – LjL Feb 10 at 11:19
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    I don't know the details, but I'm sure @LjL is right. – Colin Fine Feb 10 at 18:23
  • @LjL No reason to call other users daft, but for what it's worth I just voted Leave Open. – CJ Dennis Feb 19 at 6:08
  • @CJDennis I do think there was a pretty good reason and it was descriptive of the behavior. People need to know when they are acting in ways that are obnoxious to others. – LjL Feb 19 at 14:23
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What for a question is that, "why not"? While this might sound funny, it's pretty normal in German:

Was ist das für eine Frage?

Was für eine Frage ist das?

This is also used with a sense of sarcasm for short

was für eine Frage?!

Was 'ne Frage.

I'd translate the former seeming halfway natural compared to other uses of for:

?What is that for a question

though obviously more frequently:

what a question

At any rate it's very frequent to hear

what did you do that for?

So the answer would be simple, what for already occupies a different semantics. Although wofür, wozu, warum, wieso [hast du das getan]? are almost equivalent in that specific example.


Regarding where-, the consequent answer is imaginably simple. Either (a) *hwar did not exclusively relate to location, or (b) reconstructing *hwar- for this compound is misguided. I'm leaning towards the latter, but this would require overturning the communis opinio, and seems impossible in light of whe-re, only motivated by Ger wofür, comparing Sp por que, Fr pour quoi; Lat quorsum ~ quo; ...

The accepted reconstruction is reasonable insofar "where" may be used for abstract concepts, where no explicit location is indicated. It alternates with when, just as Ger woher can replace the impersonal dative (why is there no wam) and a response might still use dem ("him, it, ..."? does not translate).

Ironically, glossing *hwar must be as polysemous as "where" itself, if the usage may be assumed to be conservative under (a). Ger wo can even be heared relating to people, "Der Mann, wo ..." (in my private experience) or time, "Der Moment, wo" (see ger.SE), it would be awesome if these conserved the unmarked PIE interrogative pronomina reconstructing *k^wo-, *k^we- (under (b)), but that is a difficult proposition to reconcile with old, exclusively written forms. In the same vein, Ger da would be worth a look.

"dar" brought in its conjunctive use, according to DWDS/W. Pfeifer as far back as attested. They give two etymologies for da, noting "dar", later merged with "da". Hence Da-tive--I'm kidding; the second da was tho and similar. dar- now only exists in compounds and correlatives, darstellen (display, produce), darum (therefore), etc., though chiefly dafür. It's maybe notable that rum, ran, raus, rein, etc. are considered ellipses of e.g. her-[um] (around) from the last millenium. That's a interesting shift for sure; especially so if positing that r- in that context actually reflects laryngeals, but nobody seriously believes this.

da is tentatively reconstructed for a Proto-Indo-European accusative *tam, and that at last is where it get's complicated. It looks as if it should correspond to ?wam or wem, dem (as noted above). For the locative, rather confere dort. The -r in dar is compared by Pfeifer to the masculine definite article der and that point one has to notice that location and a thing or person occupying that location are often equivalent, and that locations are often unknown and hence abstract. Thence it's understandable that "where" is yet acceptable for all these cases. herefore, I consider the question answered.


For an outlook I refer to [Dunkel, George E (2014), Lexikon der indogermanischen Partikeln und Pronominalstämme, Carl Winter Universitätsverlag], perhaps I should read it myself, but the outlook that many questions are still unanswered is daunting.. For an intensive study of Proto-Germanic syntax I sadly have nothing to offer. (I know this sounds cheap, and it puts this answer into perspective).

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