LINGUIST List 9.348

Tue Mar 10 1998

Sum: Wh-Movement

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Lukasz Pielasa, Sum: Wh-movement

Message 1: Sum: Wh-movement

Date: Sun, 08 Mar 1998 17:05:03 +0100
From: Lukasz Pielasa <>
Subject: Sum: Wh-movement

On February 27, acting on behalf of my friend who's writing her MA
thesis, I posted a question about wh-movement in questions about the
subject. More specifically, it dealt with the presence or absence of
vacuous movement of the wh-word in sentences like "Who's the best?"

I would like to thank all those who answered my question. In
chronological order they were:

Adam Przepiorkowski <>
Paulino Llido <>
Steve Seegmiller <>
Taylor Roberts <>
Naomi Nagy <>
Alex <>

The agreement is that in GB there must be vacuous movement of the
wh-word to [spec, CP] in order to preserve the same structure for all
sentences - a requirement of the x-bar theory. Also, as Steve
Seegmiller points out, "Part of the evidence for such movement comes
from embedded questions like

 I don't know who to give the ticket to.

These sentences behave as though the [Spec,CP] position of the
subordinate clause is filled. For example, a second wh-word cannot be
extracted because it cannot enter [Spec,CP]:

 *What don't you know who to give to."

Also, Paulino Llido suggests that contractions are a PF issue and as
such should not be a problem for the syntax, at least in GB, and Alex
says that "In 'Who's the best?' there are almost certainly two
different structures, in one of which Who is the predicate and NOT the

Adam Przepiorkowski gives an HPSG account of the problem. Within that
framework "there is no movement (or rather, no unbounded dependency in
HPSG lingo) involved" in questions about the subject, since "`who' in
such sentences is considered as good a subject as `Mary' in `Mary
killed John". [As far as I know, this is what minimalism says about
it, too. In order to be interpreted as a question, a sentence has got
to have a +wh specifier - [spec, CP] in object questions, [spec, IP]
in subject questions.]

Taylor Roberts refers me to an article by Jane Grimshaw (references
below), in which she aparently gives an Optimality account of this
problem, suggesting that there is no movement involved. [Neither the
friend who originally asked the question nor I have had time to check
this one yet, but we will.]

Last but not least, naomi Nagy of the University of New Hamshire
refers me to her research on contractions, which shows that traces
needn't block contraction. An abstract of that paper (NWAVE 25, 1996)
is available at:

The whole paper, in postscript, is available at:

Other references:

Carl Pollard and Ivan A. Sag (1994) Head-driven Phrase Structure
Grammar, Chicago University Press

Ivan A. Sag (1997) "English relative clause constructions," Journal of
Linguistics volume 33 no. 2: 431-484

both for an HPSG account.

Jane Grimshaw (1997) "Projection, Heads, and Optimality," Linguistic
Inquiry Volume 28 Issue 3, Summer 1997, Pages 373-422

Once again double thanks to all those who helped.
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