While in Louisiana, I was asked the following question by a Louisiana native who wanted to know my name:

"What you call yourself?"

I know this is from the French "Comment tu t'appeles?", literally, "How you yourself call?", and the Louisiana native's question would normally be considered a calque. But the Louisiana native said "What", instead of "How" ("How" is used in the French form of the question). So it's not a word-for-word translation of the French question, as it shows some change.

The use of "What" instead of "How" in the speaker's question seems to be influenced by the more dominant English, where "What" would be more "acceptable than "How", in the context of the speaker's question.

My question is, what kind of change is this? Is the speaker's use of the English "What", instead of the French "How" (i.e. Comment) a matter of syntactical adjustment or a matter of diction? What is this kind of change called? Is there a name for this phenomenon?

EDIT: I would like an answer to the actual question - what is this phenomenon called? I don't want to debate whether or not I can imagine someone asking this in General US English, or whether or not the Cajun was not citing his own language in asking me the question.

For clarity, the person (a Cajun) was asking me "what is your name?" (He already knew my nickname.) I was not being asked what I like to or often call myself, but what my name actually IS. In English, what do you call yourself does not evoke, "What is your actual name". I would expect the reply to the English "What do you call yourself?" to be one's nickname and contrary to what the person's actual birthname is. I was being asked my birthname.

I should've provided that for context.

  • 2
    Even in Louisiana I'm not sure you can be so quick to decide that this has come from French - since he got out of prison he's been calling himself Billy, on Instagram she calls herself xyz etc. are fine for me, and it's only a short hop from there to what do you call yourself? It could be unrelated to French, or there could be a more complex backstory along the lines of a structure that was always available in English becoming more commonly used because of the parallel with French.
    – rchivers
    Apr 27 '20 at 12:06
  • “What do you call yourself?” is a somewhat old-fashioned, but perfectly natural and definitely existing, way of asking someone what their name is in English. Also sometimes heard as, “What do they call you?”. It’s perfectly possible that these arose as calques, but they need not be (they are, after all, completely transparent), and they are certainly not noticeably calques now. Apr 27 '20 at 14:32
  • 1
    It's not an uncommon way to speak. German and Spanish both do the same thing.
    – jlawler
    Apr 28 '20 at 1:29
  • Does anyone know what the phenomenon is called?? Also I would expect it in Spanish because both Spanish and French use the same exact phrasing "to call oneself". Since the person is not a Spaniard, nor a German, what either group does isn't really helpful.
    – G. Risan
    Apr 28 '20 at 22:45
  • You misunderstand. "comment" is a completely felicit translation of "what", at least in Lil John's hit-single "What?". And if you disagree with that, maybe you should be more concerned about "yourself" translating "t'" (equivalently German "dich", distinct from "dich selbst"). The source quomodo also translates "in what way"; -ment makes it adverbial, so that ?howlike, "which" would be analogue. Potentially, this "what" came from "which", chiefly vulgar (hence I have to make up this last part from imagination).
    – vectory
    Apr 29 '20 at 0:04

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