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Hva (what1)

2020.04.02 | samtalegrammatik.dk

The word hvad ’what’ in written Danish covers at least four different forms with various functions in Danish talk in interaction. One of these forms is hva.

Hva [væ] is the most frequent form of the interrogative pronoun and is used both in direct interrogatives (as in hva er det ‘what is it’) and indirect interrogatives (as in fortæl mig hva det er ‘tell me what it is’). Hva is not used in the exact same way as the written hvad, but also sometimes with the meaning hvilken ’which’. By using hva in an utterance (as a direct pronoun) you show that you wish to attain information. Hva never occurs as an independent utterance but always as part of larger syntactic units. A frequent construction is eller hva ’or what’, which is used after utterances that could have been complete even without this extra add on and is used to ask for a confirmation on something in the previous utterance. You can read more about eller hva here.

Here is an example of hva used as a pronoun (and in line 2 it also appears in the construction eller hva). Peller and Bjarne are talking on the phone and Bjarne had recently just returned home from a trip that he was writing a feature about:

AULing | DTKOK | 43 ((phone))

01   P:     hva var d' du  sku    ↑lave på den  tur egentlig→
            what was it 2SG should  make on that trip actually
            'what was it actually you had to do on that trip'
02          var det refe↑ra eller hva
            was it             summary  or    what
            'was it a summary or what'
03          (0.3)
04   B:     nej det noget     der hedder    f:eature↘
            no  it  something REL is.called feature
            'no it’s something called a feature'
05          (.)
06   B:     en en >skrivemåde     der hedder   < feature↘
            a  a  way.of.writing REL is.called feature
            'a a way of writing that’s called feature'

In line 1 we see hva used as a direct pronoun, which is used to request for information and Bjarne replies in line 4 with the desired information. The form hvad also sometimes appears as a pronoun although it is much rarer than hva. Hva seems to be the unmarked form of those two. For more information, see hvad.

Sources and further reading

Brøcker et al. (2012). A thorough run-through of four phenomena in Danish talk in interaction, including the spoken language’ different variations of the written language hvad.

Hansen and Heltoft (2011: 606). The big piece on Danish grammar. On page 606 some of the functions of hvad are described, also in the spoken language, though still insufficient in comparison to the description on this website.

Jørgensen (2015). A more elaborating description of the different variants of hvad in the spoken language.

Jørgensen (2011b). Short, popular scientific article on sprogmuseet.dk on the four spoken language variants of hvad.

Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson (1974) is a famous scientific article on turn taking. They have introduced the term recompletor which is used in this entry.

Steensig (2011) is a book on talk in interaction where the term recompletor is explained further.

Related entries

Forms > Word classes > Pronouns

FunctionsActions > Questions and answers > Request for information

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