Idiatov, Dmitry. 2007. A typology of non-selective interrogative pronominals. Antwerp: University of Antwerp PhD.

My PhD dissertation is a study in lexical typology that investigates non-selective interrogative pronominals equivalent to English who? and what?. In particular, the dissertation explores the diversity of natural (spoken) languages in the domain of the non-selective interrogative pronominals ‘who?’ and ‘what?’ as regards (i) the universality of their formal differentiation and (ii) the patterns of their functional differentiation in languages where they are distinguished formally. This exploration is undertaken from a functional-typological perspective.

The body of the dissertation consists of two parts. The first part is dedicated to a cross-linguistic investigation of patterns of functional differentiation between ‘who?’ and ‘what?’ in terms of non-prototypical combinations of values and ‘who?’ or ‘what?’-dominance. I discuss (i) the use of ‘what?’ in questions about the classification of a person, (ii) the use of ‘who?’ in questions about proper names of things and (iii) the use of ‘who?’ in questions about animate things.

In the second part, I discuss various languages that appear to allow for a lack of differentiation between ‘who?’ and ‘what?’ (7-9% of the languages of the world). The languages are grouped geographically in seven areas: (i) Africa and the Middle East, (ii) Eurasia, (iii) Southeast Asia and Oceania, (iv) New Guinea, (v) Australia, (vi) North America (down to Panama in the south and excluding the islands of the Caribbean), (vii) South America. Within these areas the languages are organized genetically. For each language I first try to determine whether we can truly speak about a lack of differentiation between ‘who?’ and ‘what?’. If the answer is positive, I attempt to establish the origins of the lack of differentiation between ‘who?’ and ‘what?’ in each particular case.

[pdf] (complete text + predefence errata, ca. 28 Mb)

Please let me know (dmitry.idiatov at if you come across typos or factual errors. Comments are equally very welcome!