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Even though everyone understands the meaning of this common expression, I am totally at a loss when trying to analyze it syntactically. The word tal is according to the RAE dictionary, an adjective, a pronoun or an adverb. Of these, only the pronoun could follow the interrogative adjective qué, but still makes no sense. In fact, if we translate it literally to English we get "What such", which is completely meaningless.
Could anyone help me analyze the expression syntactically and point to its origin? Could it be that it's the remnant of an older, longer expression where some elements have been omitted?

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    I think that "qué tal" is just a shortened version of "qué tal te va", Qué tal estás" o "qué tal X". It's more a "what's up?" (a shortened version of "what's up with you?") than the literal "What such". I don't know if you are going to be able to trace this "and point to its origin" – Diego Jan 29 at 21:51
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    That still doesn't answer the issue. If you translate "¿qué tal te va?" literally you get something like "what such goes to you?". Still meaningless. My problem is with the syntactic role of "tal". – Leo Jan 29 at 21:57
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    I agree with Diego. It's more of an idiom like "what's up". If you try to translate idioms you get into trouble. "what's up" for example would be "Que esta arriba". – alanfcm Jan 29 at 22:53
  • @Leo Seria una adverbio (demostrativo), parecido a la septima acpecion de tal – Diego Jan 30 at 3:13
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I found an article that tries to develop some intuitive understanding and grouping of the many idiomatic expressions using tal, at thoughtco.com:

Tal is [one] of those words that's best thought of as representing a concept rather than as the equivalent of a particular English word. Functioning as an adverb, adjective, or pronoun, tal generally is used to refer in some way to something that has previously been said or implied, and it also is used in several common idioms.

Qué tal: tal functions as an adverb with qué in questions to ask how people or things are. Literal translations of such sentences generally aren't possible, since such questions are often casual and idiomatic, so context will determine what's meant.

I can suggest one possible way of thinking about, it if it helps you develop some intuition: "¿Qué tal nos va?" is very loosely sort of equivalent to To what extent are things going well for us? -- noting that tal can mean "such," which can be used in the phrase "to such an extent."

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  • Congrats on your 10k! Thanks for contributing to the site and making it better (sometimes :P) – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Mar 16 at 7:14
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This is a personal point of view; was unable to verify it though.

Since many Spanish words are derived from Arabic language, I am assuming that “Que tal” is coming from Arabic "كيف حال" (pronounced “Kif hal”). When you are asking someone “How are you?” in Arabic you say "كيف حالك؟".

"حال" is derived from "حالة" that means “situation/condition/state”. So it is like asking someone about there situation.

Does it make sense?

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    Welcome to the stack. That is a great contribution. you should try to verify some of it so this answer could be more than just a comment based on a personal opinion. Please visit help center and tour if you need to learn more about the stack and don't hesitate to ask for help. – Diego May 1 at 2:10

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