Despite a light fall of snow, I turned up at my running club yesterday morning as usual for the social run/jog. In view of the slippery ground, though, we decided on this occasion just to make it a brisk walk.
On a normal Sunday morning we expect 60 to 70 people for the social. (The more serious runners will have already set off half an hour or an hour earlier.) But yesterday at starting time there were a mere twenty or so.
As someone said,
• ˈWhere \is everybody?
Your task for today is to account for the tonicity of this sentence. Why does the intonation nucleus go on is?
When, years ago, I discussed this type of sentence with Japanese EFL students, they pointed out, quite rightly, that the most important word seemed to be where. Why does it not bear the nucleus?
The fact is that it doesn’t. Not only in English, but apparently in all the Germanic languages, the nucleus in this type of sentence goes on the verb ‘to be’ — even though, on the face of it, this word has very little semantic importance. It’s not as if we were asking where everyone is as opposed to where they are not. Nor are we asking where they are as opposed to where they were. That is, in this case the verb is not marked for polarity or tense (which is what is usually the case when the nucleus is on the verb ‘to be’).
Perhaps there is no better explanation than to say that it is arbitrary, idiomatic.
In my book English Intonation I included a section (3.18) entitled “Wh + to be”.
The fact is that it would be utterly unidiomatic in English to say
• ˈHow are you?
or (absent any contrastive context)
• ˈTell me ˈwhat it is.
Just as in English you might ask
• ˈWhere ˈis she?
so in German you would ask
• ˈWo ˈist sie?
So much for cases where the subject is a personal pronoun. If, on the other hand, the subject is a demonstrative or a proper name or a lexical NP, then it will by default bear the nucleus, while the verb ‘to be’ is not only unaccented but usually (in a direct question) contracted.
• ˈWho’s ˈthat?
• ˈHow’s ˈMary?
• ˈHow’s your ˈwife?
• ˈTell me ˈwhat that ˈsquiggle is.
All the examples of pronoun subjects that I put in this section of my book involved personal pronouns. But not all pronouns are personal pronouns. In fact everybody is a good example of a non-personal pronoun, and I ought to have included an example of that too. The deaccenting rule, with accenting of ‘to be’, applies to everybody (or everyone) just as it does to other pronouns (except demonstrative ones).
You may care to consider also the similar behaviour of pronominal all and both:
• ˈWhere ˈare they all?
• ˈHow ˈare they both?