LINGUIST List 8.439

Sun Mar 30 1997

Books: Syntax

Editor for this issue: Susan Robinson <>

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  1. Kristi Long, New book-Theoretical Syntax

Message 1: New book-Theoretical Syntax

Date: 26 Mar 97 11:23:59 +0100
From: Kristi Long <>
Subject: New book-Theoretical Syntax


Cheng, Lisa Lai-Shen; On the Typology of Wh-Questions; 0-8153-2887-7,
cloth; 220 pages, $51; Garland Publishing; Outstanding Dissertations
in Linguistics

This study offers an explanation to a long-standing question in the
typological distinction among languages with respect to the formation
of wh-questions (i.e. interrogatives which use question words such as
'who' and 'what'). It is well-known that languages differ in the
position of the question word(s) in a wh-question. It is proposed
that both the availability of question particles and the properties of
question words contribute to the typological distinctions found. In
particular, the author argues that the availability of question
particles correlates with the lack of fronting of question words. A
theory of Clausal Typing is proposed to account for this correlation.
More specifically, languages employ either question particles or a
fronting strategy to "type" a clause as a wh-question. The theory of
Clausal Typing together with the Principle of Economy of Derivation
predicts that (a) no language has the option of alternating between
the two methods of Clausal Typing and thus there are no languages with
"optional fronting" of question words and (b) fronting of one question
word is sufficient to type a clause as a wh-question. Apparent
counterexamples to the predictions involving "optional fronting"
languages such as Bahasa Indonesia and Egyptian Arabic as well as
"multiple fronting" languages such as Hungarian and Bulgarian are
discussed and accounted for.

The internal structure of question words is further shown to shed
light on two particular issues in the literature: (i) the lack of
scope ambiguity in "in-situ" languages such as Mandarin Chinese (a
language without fronting of question words); and (ii) the question of
whether "in-situ" question words undergo fronting at Logical Form. It
is proposed that question words in Mandarin are indefinite noun
phrases without inherent quantificational force, and that this
contributes to the lack of scope ambiguity in the language. In
addition, arguments for and against LF fronting of question words are
examined. It is shown that evidence against such fronting does not
hold and that the properties of question words in "in-situ" languages
do not preclude fronting at LF.

This book will be of interest to scholars working on interrogatives,
syntactic theory, comparative syntax, Chinese syntax, and typology.
(Ph.D. dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1991;
revised with new preface, bibliography, and index)

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