LINGUIST List 10.1870

Sat Dec 4 1999

Sum: for Query 10.1830 Multiple wh-XP Interrogatives

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Carsten Breul, Sum: multiple wh-XP interrogatives

Message 1: Sum: multiple wh-XP interrogatives

Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1999 11:34:15 +0100
From: Carsten Breul <>
Subject: Sum: multiple wh-XP interrogatives

Dear all

A big THANK YOU to the 27 people who have replied to my 
recent query on multiple wh-XP interrogatives (repeated 

I have tried to classify the judgements on a four grade 
scale: ok, slightly marginal (?), strongly marginal (??-
?*), unacceptable (*). Squeezing the replies onto this 
scale, I get the following result :

sentence (1): ok: 2; ?: 3; ??-*?: 5; *: 17 
sentence (2): ok: 3; ?: 3; ??-*?: 3; *: 18

Quite a number of speakers who found the sentences 
unacceptable pointed out that they are possible if produced 
as a request for repetition of something unheard. E.g., in 
the words of one informant: 

"the only way I can get an O.K. reading is if the context 
is completely different, and the only version that works 
for me is if A has said "What did [garbled] bring?", and B 
replies "What did WHO bring?""

This, however, is not what I was after, actually it would 
have been better if I had explicitly ruled this 
interpretation out. The background and objective of my 
query was this:

I read about multiple wh-XP interrogatives in Erteschik-
Shir (1997, esp. 6.1-6.2), Pesetsky (1987) Dornisch (1995; 
and via Dornisch about Comorovski (1989)) and Bolinger 
(1978). Pesetsky e.g. says: 

"[W]e might expect Superiority effects [i.e. contrasts of 
the kind exemplified by _Who ate what?_ versus *_What did 
who eat_?] to disappear even with _who_, _what_, and _how 
many books_, if we can force these _wh_-phrases to be D-
linked." (Bolinger gives many examples where Superiority 
does not seem to hold.)

'Discourse- (D-) linking' means that the referents of the 
wh-XPs "be drawn from the sets established in the 
discourse". While _who_, _what_ are said to be "normally 
not D-linked", _which_-NPs are said to be (Comorovski: 
inherently) D-linked. 

I was unsure if Pesetsky means that EACH or only the 
initial wh-XP in a multiple wh-XP interrogative has to be 
(contextually made) D-linked. In my sentences (1) and (2) 
in the context from Dornisch, it is only the fronted object 
wh-XP that is (contextually made) D-linked. If I understand 
Erteschik-Shir correctly, the subject wh-XP has to be 
(contextually made) D-linked in any case, if the 
Superiority effect is to disappear (a topic set has to be 
available, in her terms). This seems to be supported by the 
informants' judgement, for most of them reject (1) and (2). 
But note that many of the informants suggested 

(3) Who brought what?
(4) Who brought which present? 
as the correct alternatives for (1) and (2). I don't think 
that 'the guests' as a non-individualised set qualifies as 
a topic set (only the set of individual guests would), so 
the acceptability of (3) and (4) is problematic for (my 
understanding of) E.-S. as well.

Bolinger in Hiz (ed.), _Questions_, 1978. 
Dornisch 1995 see below.
Erteschik-Shir, _The dynamics of focus structure_, 1997. 
Pesetsky in Reuland & ter Meulen (eds.), _The 
representation of (in)definiteness_, 1987. 

- -------
The query:

In a study of the syntax of multiple wh-XP interrogatives 
in Polish, Ewa Dornisch ("Discourse-Linking and Multiple
_wh_-Questions in Polish", in Gussmann, E. (ed.), 
_Licensing in Syntax and
Phonology_, 1995) describes the following context for 
multiple wh-XP

"After A's birthday party, A and B are standing in front of 
the table on which the gifts are piled. B wants to know who 
gave A each particular gift."

I would like to know if the following multiple wh-XP 
are acceptable for speakers of English in this context:

(1) What did who bring?
(2) Which present did who bring?

Dr. Carsten Breul
Universitaet Duisburg
FB 3; Anglistik
47048 Duisburg
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