Indirect Questions: -는지 / -냐고

Discussion in '한국어 (Korean)' started by idialegre, May 26, 2012.

  1. idialegre Senior Member

    Hamburg, Germany
    USA English
    I am having trouble understanding how to decide between -는지 and -냐고 in indirect questions.

    I was trying to translate the following sentence: "I asked him why he had chosen that gift."

    My translation: 저는 그에게 왜 그 선물을 선텍했었느냐고 물어봤습니다. My Korean friend corrected this to 저는 그에게 왜 그 선물을 선텍했는지 물어봤습니다, but he can't explain why.

    Can anyone explain the difference to me?

  2. kenjoluma Senior Member

    Your first attept "저는 그에게 왜 그 선물을 선택했었느냐고 물어봤습니다" is okay.
    If I were you, I would use a plain past, not past-past: "저는 그에게 왜 그 선물을 선택했느냐고 물어봤습니다."

    Your friend's version is also correct: "저는 그에게 왜 그 선물을 선택했는지 물어봤습니다."

    Difference? Not that much. Did your friend say yours is wrong?
  3. idialegre Senior Member

    Hamburg, Germany
    USA English
    겐졸루마, 그렇게 빨리 대답해서 고마워요! 내 친구는 내 번역서가 틀리다고 안 했는데 나는 그렇게 생각했어요, 왜냐하면 다른 그가 번역서를 고친 이유를 못 생각했지요.
  4. 조금만 Senior Member

    English - England
    Forgive me for bumping this rather old thread, but I think these cases of native-speaker intuitions are always worth dwelling on.

    The problem for us learners is that no-one has yet invented a dictionary that can place words in the socio-psychological context in which they are embedded in real-life interchanges with and among Koreans. So we look for "dictionary distinctions" where there are none to be had, despite the fact that the distinctions are real enough when we factor in the psychology.

    My personal hunch is that what lay behind your friend's preferred alternative may be his or her sense that all you wanted to convey was the general fact that you made an enquiry in one form or another about your other friend's motives for choosing that present, without necessarily wanting to report the precise words in which you made that enquiry.

    Hence the suggestion of the ~은지/~는지 construction, which simply says you enquired about the matter, without necessarily implying anything about the actual words in which you phrased that question.

    By contrast, your original formulation might be taken to mean (though it need not be) that the actual verbatim question you put was 그 선물을 왜 선택했어? and that you set a certain store by the fact that you chose those exact words, rather than other possible ways of phrasing the same enquiry.

    My guess (which may match your friend's intuition) is that you weren't actually intent on reporting the exact words rather than the general gist of your enquiry, so it was a good idea to steer you away from an expression that might just give rise to that misunderstanding in some listeners.

    If I were a trying to write a grammar manual, I'd be tempted to class ~냐고 constructions as "quoted questions" and keep the term "indirect questions/speech" for the -는지 constructions. But, mercifully, I'm not. So I won't.
  5. idialegre Senior Member

    Hamburg, Germany
    USA English
    조금만, thanks so much! Your explanation is utterly lucid, and although my Korean is not nearly far enough along for me to have acquired any sort of real "Sprachgefühl," what you write is very convincing and seems entirely plausible. But of course I suppose a native speaker might come along any minute and deflate us both...:(
  6. yuna Senior Member

    Basically endings like ~냐, ~가, ~까, ~지, ~나 ( there could be more ) can contain the nuance of the speaker's guessing something, or I'd rather say, self-guestioning something.

    For example,
    누구를 선택하느냐, 왜 비싼가, 어디가 좋을까, 무엇이 괜찮을지, 어떻게 가나 - these phases are directly understood by Koreans as self-questioning by the speaker.

    So the underlined part in 저는 그에게 왜 그 선물을 선택했었느냐고 물어봤습니다 is considered as a curiosity of "저", that is, the speaker of this sentence.
    Of course if the person differs, like in 그녀는 친구에게 왜 그 선물을 선택했었느냐고 물어봤습니다, the speaker is "그녀" and the same underlined part would be regarded as her questioning.

    If you practice with other endings, the part could be rewritten:
    왜 그 선물을 선택했었는가(를)
    왜 그 선물을 선택했었을까(를)
    왜 그 선물을 선택했었는지(를)
    왜 그 선물을 선택했었나(를)
    를 can be omitted as you see.

    And endings like ~어, ~니, as many knows, form not self-questioning phrases, but only direct questions with question marks. And they don't occur in subject or object clauses.
  7. 조금만 Senior Member

    English - England
    I'm not altogether convinced that the notion of "self-questioning" (I'd term it "conjecture" in contrast to "enquiry", or, less abstractly, "inwardly wondering about something" rather than "asking someone else about something") though it undoubtedly plays a distinctive part in Korean usage that has no exact parallels in English, gets us much closer to the specific thing idealgre was asking about, namely why a native-speaker friend advised that rather than saying 저는 그에게 왜 그 선물을 선텍했느냐고 물어봤습니다, it would be preferable to say 저는 그에게 왜 그 선물을 선택했는지 물어봤습니다 (I've altered the tense of the original question in agreement with kenjoluma's suggestion, partly because dropping the double past particle makes the bits we're really interested in clear to both the ear and the eye.) Or to the answer to the follow up, namely why in the view of kenjoluma,another native speaker, the reason for the first native speaker's suggestion wasn't at all apparent.

    I don't think the point at issue here (though it is very much at issue in some of the other constructions yuna brings up, especially those in ~을까) is about conjecture versus enquiry. That issue involves two distinct sorts of questioning behaviour, characterized by different mental states in the questioner. But what's at issue here is direct speech versus reported speech, that is, different grammatical representations of what remains one and the same question, asked once only but embedded in different sentences.

    Let's take Choo and Kwak's examples from section 22.1.2 of Using Korean (p.300)

    "뭘 보니?" ==> 뭘 보냐고 물었다
    "날씨 좋으니" ==> 날씨 좋으냐고 물었다

    The essential logical point here is that the -니 to -냐고 transformations are purely grammatical. There is no change in the actual real-world question asked or in the implied mental state of the questioner. There's only one question event, by one and the same questioner in one and the same situation, using one and the same original formulation. So the switch from -니 to-냐(고) is purely and simply a change in the way that single question, asked by someone who wanted to be told the answer by someone else, and therefore not construable as guessing or self-questioning in either of the representations, is represented in the syntax.

    I can't readily give a parallel in English to make this point, but it's a lot easier in German.

    "Wie ist das Wetter?" ==> Sie fragte, wie das Wetter sei.

    Although the so-called subjunctive "sei" is in many instances associated with conjecture or uncertainty in German, it has no such association whatever here. It is merely the grammatical transformation of the "ist" in the original question, and it signifies no more than the fact that that original, unchanged, non-conjectural enquiry is now being reported rather than cited. It remains the same question, with the same implied mental state in the questioner, a desire to find out from somebody else something which they, for one reason or another can't establish for themselves.

    I would argue that the shift from -니 to -냐고 is exactly analagous to that from "ist" to "sei". It is, if you like, a transmutation of typography into morphology in which the quotation marks (or their notional spoken equivalent) are replaced by an inflectional feature, with no change whatever in the semantics of the original question as cited in the first instance and reported in the second.

    Let's suppose idealgre's friend decides to make the same suggested modification to Choo and Kwak's example, replacing 날씨 좋으냐고 물었다 by 날씨 좋으는지 물었다. Since both are acceptable sentences (idealgre's friend didn't claim the original proposal was wrong, only that the alternative version was preferable) we come back to the question: what was it that would (presumably) incline idealgre's friend to prefer the -는지 version?

    I came into this discussion, not to try per impossibile to decide it, but to attempt to tease out what might lie behind the fact that one native speaker thought there was a significant (though unexplicable) difference, while another thought there wasn't. Clearly we are not dealing with anything that can be decided by general "rules" of grammar or reference to supposedly authoritative tomes, and there may actually not be an answer.

    Although what I've argued so far in this post seems to me to be based on hard linguistic evidence, the tentative suggestion I made in my earlier posting was admittedly pure conjecture, namely that idealgre's friend might have felt that the -냐고 construction represents the transformation of quotation marks and an original (which are of course present only as notional markers in speech as acoustic utterance) into an ending, so that "decoding" that ending consists of deleting the -냐고 and replacing it a by a -니 plus (in written form) a pair of inverted commas, implying that not only the broad sense, but the verbatim formulation of the original question was being reported. [I'm not convinced myself that's the case, but I can understand why someone might claim that it is]. Whereas the formulation in -는지, being an indirect, rather than a reported question, and hence purporting to convey only the essence of the enquiry's contents, not its verbatim formulation, did not entail idealgre purporting that the question had been phrased in that precise way. So far, I've not seen a more plausible alternative explanation, but then plausibility is seldom a sure guide to truth, especially in matters linguistic.

    Since I don't want to spoil my reputation by sticking entirely to the point for a whole post, one closing semi-diversion.

    The difference between inner conjecture and outward-directed enquiry in Korean is I think brought out rather well in a track (#5) on Wax's 8th album (2009). The song in question (골드미스 다이어리) deserves admiration for the sheer chutzpah of rhyming "이미 이미" with "Gimme gimme", but that apart, there's also the rather (in our present context) interesting pair of lines

    어디 있을까 어디 숨었나
    나만 아껴줄 단 한 사람 (오~)

    How about that? A -을까 question followed straight off by a -나 question. Where can he be? (conjecture about something that's far from certain to be true, but which matters a lot to the conjecturer), where is he hiding [literally: has he hidden]? (hopeful enquiry to the world in general about the "factual" whereabouts of this special guy who will treasure only her).
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2012

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