Echo Question in Language

Parroting a Question For Clarification or Emphasis

Blue-fronted Amazon parrot
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An echo question is a type of direct question that repeats part or all of something which someone else has just asked and is one form of echo utterance. Echo questions are also referred to as "parrot" questions or "repeat, please" questions. The reason people generally echo or parrot a question they've been asked is that they have not fully understood or heard what was said—or they simply can't believe anyone would ask such a question. Using a rising or fall-rising intonation for an echo question allows us to clarify what we think we heard.

Examples and Observations

Telemachus: "We're waiting for Odysseus to come home."
Antinuous: "You're waiting for who to do what?"
From "The Comeback" by Albert Ramsdell Gurney
Mary: "What do you want?"
George Bailey: "What do I want? Why, I'm just here to get warm, that's all!"
From "It's a Wonderful Life"
Holden: "I used to play checkers with her all the time."
Stradlater: "You used to play what with her all the time?"
Holden: "Checkers."
From "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger, 1951

Intonation With Echo Questions

"We use echo questions either because we did not fully hear or understand what was said, or because its content is too surprising to be believed.
A: It cost $5,000.
B: How much did it cost?
A: His son's an osteopath.
B: His son's a what?
Echo questions are usually spoken with a rising intonation and with a strong emphasis on the wh-word (what, who, how, and so on)."
From "A Glossary of Grammar Terms" by Geoffrey Leech, Edinburgh University Press, 2006

Movement Operations With Echo Questions

"Consider the following dialogue:
A: He had said someone would do something.
B: He had said who would do what?
Speaker B largely echoes what Speaker A says, except for replacing someone by who and something by what. For obvious reasons, the type of question produced by speaker B is called an echo question. However, speaker B could alternatively have replied with a non-echo question like, 'Who had he said would do what?'
"If we compare the echo question, He had said who would do what? with the corresponding non-echo question Who had, he said would do what? we find that the latter involves two movement operations which are not found previously. One is an auxiliary inversion operation by which the past-tense auxiliary had is moved in front of its subject he. The other is a wh-movement operation by which the wh-word who is moved to the front of the overall sentence, and positioned in front of had."
From "English Syntax: An Introduction" by Geoffrey Leech, Cambridge University Press, 2004

Questioning a Question

"A speaker may question a question by repeating it with a rising intonation. Note that we use normal question structures with inverted word order, not indirect question structures, in this case.
" 'Where are you going?' 'Where am I going? Home.'
'What does he want?' 'What does he want? Money as usual.'
'Are you tired?' 'Am I tired? Of course not.'
'Do squirrels eat insects?' 'Do squirrels eat insects? I'm not sure.' "
From "Practical English Usage" by Michael Swan, Oxford University Press, 1995