Is the tone of voice used in English to ask a question present in all languages?

In English, we can make virtually any statement into a question by changing the way we say and emphasize the words.

So, for example, we can transform the declaration, “It’s raining outside” into the question “It’s raining outside?” simply by raising the ‘note’ of the word “outside”. Maybe ‘note’ is the wrong term, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

Is this universal among spoken languages?

I’ve been learning a very little bit of Italian, and changing intonation seems to be the way you ask any question (as opposed to using interrogatory words like how, when, why, etc.). Make a statement, but raise the intonation.

To quote Miss Swan from MadTV, “Question go UP at the end!”

Hell, it doesn’t work in ENGLISH as well as it used to.

It seems to me that I used to be able to ask questions this way reliably. These days, “It’s raining outside?” turned into a question by intonation is likely to get you a response like “Well that’s OK. I have an umbrella”, to which you have to amplify with “No, I’m asking. Is it raining outside?”

See a phenomenon called “uptalk” or “high rising terminal”:

I don’t know if that bears any of the responsibility, or if something else is making people “intonation deaf”.

Most of the time it’s not used in Finnish, but I could imagine it being used when offering something and asking if you want some, as in “Bread?” or “Water?”. Wikipedia’s Finnish pages note that even that is a recent thing. For something like asking whether it rains outside, asking a proper question would be far more natural than trying to turn a statement into a question with intonation.

Living languages may be distinguished from dead languages by their ability to add and subtract from their lexicons based upon cultural changes.

**Change am be good, Twencen geezers!

Mandarin uses very similar intonation as English when asking questions. I think Japanese does as well.

I despise uptalk. Too many people at my university use it.



One of the hardest things about trying to learn Mandarin is avoiding the impulse to use a rising tone at the end of a sentence, because this almost always changes the meaning of the ultimate word.

To me at least, “uptalk” does not sound the same as asking a question. I find it odd that some people describe it as such.

We who speak Australian English are infamous for our rising inflection? Apparently we go up at the end of every sentence? Foreigners find it very annoying? Adam Hills says we’re all just too insecure to make a statement?

A statement can be a question when you change your inflection in Arabic.

Thanks . . . and thanks for the link (which links to some other interesting ones).

Part of the motivation for my question (assuming it was answered in the affirmative, plus/minus a few exceptions) was to then ask: where does the phenomenon come from? Are our human language centres ‘hard-wired’ to understand the changed intonation (and to use it in the first place)? In fact, I think dogs may possess something similar (‘You want to go the park’ ==> no response vs ‘You want to go the park?’ ==> hysterical jumping and running on the spot scratching the hell out of the floor)

Many languages use enclitic particles to signal a question, instead of intonation.

Classical Arabic uses the prefixes a- or hal in front of a declarative phrase to make it a question.

The other interrogative particles I know of come after the phrase:
Japanese ka
Malay ka
Mandarin Chinese ma
Turkish mi

By the way, the Chinese interrogative particle ma is not pronounced with a rising intonation, but with a flat neutral tone.

So, this is why I had such a hard time making myself understood cannabis.

Finnish ko
Bulgarian li

The answer to the OP is “yes and no” for Japanese. If you do use the interrogative particle ka, you don’t need a rising intonation. But you can make a question out of a phrase by using rising intonation.

Kore wa nan desu ka? (no rising intonation): What is this?
Kore wa? (with rising intonation): And what about this?

Actually, you are probably right. This is odd. I am ethnically Chinese, and my first language is Mandarin, yet I consider my native language to be English. I had just considered this question a bit more, and it seems that my mind just adds the rising intonation to the end of mandarin question sentences.

I know that the Japanese language uses ‘ka’ at the end of sentences to signify a question, but I think in this case the rising intonation is still usually used, at least based on my experience.

Also, Serbo-Croat li, Polish czy, Slovenian ali.

…and British wot

i do that too. it would be interesting to know if monolingual Chinese do not do that.