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How would you explain why there is no definite article before the noun "language"?

Examples to compare the pattern with:

  • Do you know what the capital of Peru is?

  • Do you know what the longest river in Asia is?

Do you know what language is spoken in Mexico?

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  • Following the exact pattern of your examples, we would say "Do you know what the national language of Mexico is?" Nov 9 '20 at 9:22
  • To me, it seems the verb be becomes an auxiliary in the third example. There are also two clauses. I just can't put together a logical explanation of why the pattern would change in the 3rd example which a foreign language learner can accept. In formulating indirect questions from "What language is spoken in Mexico?" they fall into saying "Do you know what language spoken in Mexico is." That sounds wrong, but I'm trying to have more than "it is an exception to the rule" any ideas?
    – Pubwie
    Nov 10 '20 at 0:58
  • "Do you know what the language spoken in Mexico is?" is not wrong - there is simply more than one way of asking the question. (You could say "Do you know which river is the longest in Asia?") Nov 10 '20 at 9:26
  • I see what you are saying. Thank you Kate. This brings me to another question but might have to reask to lay it out in a clear way. If we focus on the verb "is" (What is the capital of Peru?) = (Do you know what the capital of Peru is?), subject-verb agreement in Q-forming. Why would we not follow the same rule with (What language is spoken in Mexico?). With the indirect question, it seems to sound more right to leave it unchanged (Do you know what language is spoken in Mexico?) Is there a object-verb-subject rule when question forming?
    – Pubwie
    Nov 11 '20 at 1:13
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In the first two questions, what is being used as an interrogative pronoun, whereas in the third question it is being used as an adjective. An easy way to test this, is to try to replace "what" with "which" (not completely foolproof) - I have used "!" to indicate an ungrammatical question and "?" to indicate a slightly dubious structure.

! Do you know which the capital of Peru is?

? Do you know which the longest river in Asia is?

Do you know which language is spoken in Mexico?

You can arrange the first two questions as:

What is the capital of Peru?

What is the longest river in Asia is?

?What is language spoken in Mexico?

What/Which language is spoken in Mexico?

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  • Thank you Timmy
    – Pubwie
    Nov 11 '20 at 1:03

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