Danish has an optative taking the form of a wh-clause with embedded word order: Hvem der var rig! lit. ‘Who there were rich!’ with the intended meaning Wish I were rich! Such wh-clauses cannot be used as optatives in German or English (or only marginally so). On the basis of a detailed analysis of the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of this little-studied phenomenon, this article seeks to explain why a wh-clause with “embedded” word order can be used as an optative. I argue that wh-optatives are compositional in many but not all respects. It is a special construction whose interpretation is determined to a large extent by its grammatical properties but which also has completely idiosyncratic properties. In German and English, such wh-clauses are only potential optatives: They are not used as optatives, but nothing would preclude it.
Journal of Germanic Linguistics, 2013, Vol 25, Issue 2, p. 137-192