Review of Multiple Wh-Fronting
Date: Thu, 19 Feb 2004 14:41:03 -0500
From: Olga Zavitnevich-Beaulac <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Multiple Wh-Fronting
Boeckx, Cedric and Kleanthes K. Grohmann, ed. (2003) Multiple Wh-
Fronting, John Benjamins, Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 64.
Olga Zavitnevich-Beaulac, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
The original work by Wachowitcz (1974) and, in particular, the study by
Rudin (1988) have lead to the appearance of a new topic in research on
wh-questions: multiple wh-fronting. In the recent years, and
especially with an advent of Minimalism, the puzzling phenomenon of
multiple wh-movement has generated a number of hypotheses that offer
different solutions to the existing linguistic fact (see among others
Cheng (1991), Grewendorf (1999), Simpson (1999, 2000)). The book,
edited by Cedric Boeckx and Kleanthes K. Grohmann, is a collection of
12 papers (including the Introduction) that further develops this
topic. The main question that linguists attempt to answer concerns the
nature of multiple wh-movement. Minimalism does not allow superfluous
steps and operations. If movement of a single wh-phrase suffices to
check strong/uninterpretable feature, why do languages move all wh-
expressions clause-initially? The contributors to this volume explore
this issue on a large number of cross-linguistic data offering their
solutions to the problem. A number of related issues are examined as
well, among them Superiority Constraints, Wh-Focus interaction,
multiple specifiers, extended CP field, remnant IP/TP movement.
The introduction by Cedric Boeckx and Kleanthes K. Grohmann (pp.1-15)
offers a brief overview of research on multiple wh-fronting. The
authors illustrate why the case of multiple wh-fronting gets so much
attention in minimalist studies, namely the four reasons for a
"successful marriage" between multiple wh-fronting and minimalism. The
introduction also includes summaries of the articles contained in the
book. Since a number of papers deal with the problem of Superiority,
it is interesting to have the authors' observation that although
Superiority is viewed as one instance of generalised Relativized
Minimality effects, it is found only in the case of wh-questions as
opposed to other types of A'-movement (e.g. Topic, Focus).
In "Symmetries and asymmetries in multiple checking" (pp.17-26) Cedric
Boeckx extends Chomsky's (2000) insight of Case and phi-features being
the two sides of the same coin, to Focus/Wh relation claiming that the
two features, although not identical, have the same function. He
further contends that focus feature being interpretable on the Probe
(but not on the Goal) can be checked multiply. The opposite holds for
the wh-feature: it is interpretable on the Goal, but not on the Probe.
The uninterpretable wh-feature of the Probe can only be valued once by
the closest element, from which follows the Superiority effects in wh-
feature checking. Thus the difference between Focus and Wh-features is
attributed not to their intrinsic properties, but to their placement.
Crucial for this proposal is the distinction between Match and Agree,
the latter incorporating the former plus a Valuation procedure. Move
can take place under Match independently of Agree.
In "On wh-islands and obligatory wh-movement contexts in South Slavic"
(pp.27-50) Zeljko Boskovic presents more evidence that multiple wh-
fronting (MWF) languages, namely Serbo-Croatian (SC) and Bulgarian, do
not present a uniform phenomenon. This time the author re-examines the
case of wh-island extraction. First, Boskovic demonstrates that
Bulgarian is not totally immune from wh-island effects as claimed by
Rudin (1988): wh-arguments, but not wh-adjuncts, can be extracted out
of wh-islands. Secondly, he shows that some non MWF languages (e.g.
Swedish) exhibit the same pattern in wh-island extraction as Bulgarian.
Moreover, Boskovic illustrates that in certain instances SC allows
multiple filled Spec SP. However, the presence of multiple Specs does
not make it possible to escape wh-island effect in SC. Based on this
discussion Boskovic suggests excluding wh-islands extraction criterion
as a qualifying ground for MWF dichotomy. Yet Boskovic fails to answer
the question of why Bulgarian and SC exhibit different behaviour in wh-
argument extraction out of wh-island. He leaves the answer to be
determined and, instead, reiterates his previous claim that all the
differences between the two languages can be traced to a single
distinction in the "lexical properties of the interrogative C-head,
more precisely, the PF affix status of the Bulgarian interrogative C"
Molly Diesing in "On the nature of multiple fronting in Yiddish" (pp.
51-76) examines two wh-question strategies in Yiddish (single vs.
multiple fronting). Diesing illustrates that although both strategies
convey the same (pair-list reading in all cases) reading the two differ
in their syntactic properties: multiple, but not single, wh-fronting
exhibits Superiority effects. Diesing suggests that multiple wh-
fronting is a genuine instance of wh-movement to [+multiple Spec, CP]
that can only originate from an A-position. The closest to [Spec, CP]
wh-phrase must move to Spec CP first hence Superiority constraint.
Single wh-fronting in matrix clauses is a result of wh-scrambling to
IP, which is immune to Superiority. The wh-feature is checked a la
Boskovicvia LF insertion of the C-head. Embedded questions have [-
multiple Spec, CP] and wh-movement in embedded questions is a subject
to Superiority. Diesing concludes that Yiddish presents a hybrid type
of MWF languages as it does not properly fit in any specific class yet
exhibits certain characteristics peculiar of several of them.
In "On the morphosyntax of wh-movement" (pp.77-98) Marcel den Dikken
proposes that wh-movement in English is an instance of Focus movement
(at least in root clauses). The author presents the following
arguments. First, observing that in matrix clauses Topic can precede
wh-phrases ("?To Mary, what should we give?") den Dikken concludes that
a wh-phrase appears lower than [Spec,CP], presumably in the Focus
position. Modifying Kayne's (1998) original proposal that non-wh focus
phrases can undergo focus movement followed by the remnant TP movement
(VP-preposing) den Dikken suggests that in multiple wh-questions "in-
situ" wh-phrase moves to a Focus position first and then TP moves over
it bringing the other wh-phrase to a structurally higher position. In
single wh-questions a wh-phrase also moves to [Spec, FocusP], however
remnant TP movement does not happen because TP would be a harmful
intervener between [+wh] C and the wh-phrase in [Spec, FocusP].
Considering obligatory wh-relative fronting den Dikkenin adopts the
view that relatives are predicates of NPs they are construed with. In
order to establish a predicate relation operator movement of a wh-
phrase to embedded Spec, CP is necessary. The trigger of movement is
the morphological wh-feature of C. Den Dikken's argument is built in
part on the assumption that multiple wh-questions can receive only a
single pair echoic reading when the fronted wh-constituent is a wh-the-
hell expression, as in (1):
(1) "?Who the hell is in love with who?"
The author seems to overlook the following situation: a speaker
providing new information says that "John is in love with Mary, Jim is
in love with Sue and Bill is in love with Monika", a hearer totally
lost in this information posits (1). It is a totally legitimate
question which requires pair-list reading in spite of the presence of
Kleanthes K. Grohmann ("German is a multiple wh-fronting language!"
(pp. 99-130)) considers constructions with multiple interrogation in
German and suggests that this language should be included in the
typology of MWF languages. Grohmann observes that German patterns with
Bulgarian and Rumanian in that in all contexts of multiple wh-questions
obligatory pair-list reading is achieved. This, according to the
Hagstrom-Boskovic's approach, implies that all wh-phrases undergo
genuine wh-movement to CP as opposed to mere wh-fronting or wh-
scrambling. Indeed the author presents syntactic evidence for A'-
movement of both wh-phrases (intervention effects, parasitic gap, weak
crossover). However, unlike Bulgarian, German never exhibits
Superiority effects. Superiority condition can be escaped if wh-
phrases are D-linked. Grohmann illustrates that this is the case in
German where multiple wh-phrases must be D-linked. This means that
multiple wh-questions in German can never be a "true" request for "new
information". Thus Grohmann concludes that in multiple wh-questions
German moves both wh-phrases to two distinct focus positions within CP.
Youngmi Jeong ("Deriving Anti-Superiority effects: Multiple wh-
questions in Japanese and Korean" pp. 131-140) offers a minimalist
explanation of Anti-Superiority and additional wh-effects. The author
rejects the view (Watanabe 1992, Saito 1994) that these effects come
from the violation of Empty Category Principle, but claims that they
are determined by three factors: no adjunction can proceed to the right
(Kayne 1994); in multiple wh-questions more than one, but not all wh-
phrases should front (Pesetsky 2000); CP-field includes several
functional projections (Rizzi 1997). Building on these assumptions
Jeong illustrates why the structure in (2) results in ungrammatical
derivation and why grammaticality is restored when an additional wh-
phrase is added, as in (3):
(2) *Naze nani-o anata-wa katta no?
why what-Acc you-Top bought Q
"Why did you buy what?"
(vs. Nani-o naze anata-wa katta no?)
(3) Dare-ga naze nani-o katta no?
who-Nom why what-Acc bought?
"What did who buy why?"
Contrary to the general assumption that Japanese and Korean are wh-in-
situ languages, Jeong claims that wh-phrases in these languages do
undergo wh-movement to the functional domain. An exception is 'why',
which is base-generated in the functional projection.
In "Conjoined questions in Hungarian" (pp.141-160) Anikó Lipták
considers wh-questions that contain multiple wh-phrases, but refer to a
single incident, such as "Who saw Mary and when?". Lipták illustrates
that Hungarian has two distinct patterns and the two "cannot be lumped
together under a uniform syntactic analysis" (p.157). In the first
type all wh-phrases occur preverbally, while in the second type the
first wh-phrase appears preverbally, but the others are in a postverbal
position introduced by a co-ordinator és 'and'. Lipták rejects previous
elliptical clausal co-ordination analysis (Bánréti 1992) that assumes
that the two derivations are parallel and that conjoined wh-phrases
always result from the co-ordination of two clauses with ellipsis in
either the first or the second conjunct. Instead she suggests that
preverbal conjoined questions involve clause internal co-ordination of
wh-phrases, hence the co-ordination relation is established within one
and the same clause. In contrast, postverbal conjoined questions are
instances of multiclausal co-ordination accompanied by ellipsis.
Arguing for an X' theoretic approach to co-ordination Lipták claims
that asymmetric relation holds between the two conjuncts (the two wh-
phrases within the same clause or the two conjoined clauses). The
first conjunct c-commands the second but not vice versa. However, this
conclusion is reached based on a single case of wh-subject and which-
phrase interaction, as in (4) and (5):
(4) a) Ki beszélt és melyik (pro) barátjáról?
who-Nom talked-3sg and which friend-poss.3sg-about
"Who talked and about which friend of his?"
b) *Melyik (pro) barátja beszélt és kiról?
(5) a) Ki és melyik (pro) barátjáról beszélt?
who-Nom and which friend-poss3sg-about talked-3sg
"Who talked and about which friend of his?"
b)*Melyik (pro) barátja és kiról beszélt?
Notice that asymmetry disappears if both wh-phrases are adjuncts, as in
(6) and (7) (I am thankful to Edit Jakab for Hungarian data):
(6) Mi-vel törte be az ablak-ot és mikor?
what-with broke-3sg PREF the window-acc and when
"With what did he break the window and when?"
Mikor törte be az ablakot és mivel?
"When did he break the window and with what?"
(7) Mivel és mikor törte be az ablak-ot?
what-with and when broke-3sg PREF the window-acc
"With what and when did he break the window?"
Mikor és mivel törte be az ablakot?
In other words, as noted by the author, there are still many questions
that need to be addressed.
Persian wh-questions seem to posit a problem for the Minimalist theory,
as this wh-in-situ language allows optional wh-scrambling, scrambled
wh-phrases being subject to Superiority Constraint. Moreover, multiple
wh-questions require pair-list reading. These problems are resolved by
Ahmad R. Lotfi in "Persian wh-riddles" (pp.161-186). Adopting
Hagstrom's (1998) proposal Lotfi assumes that Persian has a
phonetically null Q-marker which originates with the lowest wh-phrase
and undergoes subsequent movement to the functional domain resulting in
pair-list reading in all cases. Scrambled wh-phrases move to a lower
than CP projection being driven by Focus feature. Superiority effects
are caused by different reasons. Thus subject/object violation does
not result from Superiority constraint per se but from Case assignment
requirement: object cannot move/be scrambled from the case assigning
verb unless case requirement is satisfied in an alternative way (by ra-
morpheme that cliticised to an object as -ro/o). As for "true"
Superiority cases Lotfi proposes that a wh-adjunct cannot cross a wh-
object argument. Moreover the timing of scrambling plays a crucial
role: wh-arguments scramble before Q-marker movement, while wh-adjuncts
scramble after Q-movement. Hence the two types of movement (wh-
argument vs. wh-adjunct) differ not in their properties, but in the
time when move occurs in relation to the Q-marker.
There are a number of questions that arise and are left unaccounted,
thus if "adjuncts need no case-marking to license their scrambling"
(p.182) and scrambling is common in Persian, why can wh-adjuncts not be
scrambled over wh-subject:
(8) *Koja ki raft?
where who went
"Who went where?"
Another question concerns the landing site of scrambled wh-objects. It
seems that they can appear in both A and A' positions, i.e. before and
after subjects, the unmarked order being subject +place/time +object
(9) Chi-o ki xarid?
what-case who bought
"Who bought what?"
(10) Armin chi-o koja xarid?
Armin what where bought
"Where did Armin buy what?"
Lara Reglero's paper "Non-wh-fronting in Basque" (pp.187-227) presents
an account of wh-question formation in Basque. Basque employs single
and multiple wh-fronting strategies, both subject to Superiority
Constrain. Wh-movement in this language is argued to be an instance of
focus-movement (Ortiz de Urbina 1995). Assuming close connection
between Topicalization and D-Linking Reglero suggests that in case of
single wh-fronting the "in-situ" wh-phrase is D-linked or Topicalized,
hence it undergoes Topic movement to a position following the verb,
which in turn moved to the Focus Projection. Fronted wh-phrase, not
being D-linked moves to Focus position preceding the verb. For
multiple wh-fronting questions she claims that closest to the verb wh-
phrase is focused, while the wh-phrase to the left of it is
topicalized. Thus all wh-phrases move to the left periphery, both
Topic and Focus are hosted in the same projection, which Reglero calls
Some aspects of the analysis raise certain questions, thus it is not
clear why the Topic feature of wh-phrases must be checked obligatory,
but checking of the Topic feature of non-wh-elements is optional (it
can be scrambled). Is such factor as "discourse related" a sufficient
ground for one head being able to license two distinct functional
features such as Topic and Focus? Moreover, can the same head have
different specification: Attract-all-discourse and Attract-1Topic? And
a more general question: how far can we stretch the notion of
To test whether a wh-phrase is D-linked Reglero uses Pesetsky's (1987)
'the hell' strategy and den Dikken's application of this test:
aggressively non-D-linked 'the hell' is incompatible with D-linked
wh-phrase. However, Reglero disregards one property of 'the hell'
expression pointed out by den Dikken (same volume): 'the hell' needs
to be licensed and this licensing occurs in the Focus projection.
In other words it is not the case that leftmost wh-phrase must be
D-linked, it is the case that 'the-hell' expression must be focused
The paper "Malagasy as an optional multiple wh-fronting language" (pp.
229-254) by Joachim Sabel discusses different wh-question strategies
employed by this Western Austronesian language. Malagasy exhibits full
and partial wh-movement in single wh-questions, and it allows wh-in-
situ as well. In multiple questions in Malagasy one wh-phrase can be
fronted and the other(s) remain in situ, alternatively all wh-
expression can stay in-situ or be fronted. Sabel argues that full wh-
movement in Malagasy is triggered by a strong Focus feature, when this
feature is selected for computation being assigned to respective
functional heads and wh-elements in the numeration. If a numeration
contains a wh-expletive which is directly merged in C, then wh-movement
will be partial as the relevant feature in matrix C is checked by
expletive. Accordingly, if no [+strong] Focus feature is selected, no
wh-movement will occur, as no feature checking is required. For the
case of multiple wh-fronting Sabel suggests that similar to Bulgarian,
wh-phrases in Malagasy prior to A'-movement form a wh-cluster and raise
to the left periphery as a single unit. Sabel also discusses different
constraints existing in single and multiple wh-questions in Malagasy.
Thus surface optionality in wh-question formation in Malagasy is the
result of different numerations. However, the optionality question is
not resolved completely, as one language allows two instantiations
(strong and weak) of the same feature.
In "Multiple wh-fronting in Serbo-Croatian matrix questions and the
matrix sluicing construction" (pp.255-284) Sandra Stjepanovic examines
multiple wh-fronting in SC. Stjepanovic argues that SC has two focus
positions: one located above TP and the other between TP and VP; and
that wh-movement in SC is driven by the Focus feature. She further
illustrates that Superiority effects found in some short distance null
C matrix questions (that is, context where Superiority should not be
observed) result from sluicing with multiple wh-remnants or multiple
sluicing. Stjepanovic first presents evidence that elliptical
constructions with wh-questions in SC are results of multiple sluicing,
but not gapping, and then demonstrates that sluicing of multiple wh-
remnants is wh-movement to Spec, CP followed by IP deletion. The fact
that wh-phrases move to Spec, CP explains their behaviour regarding
The book is interesting in that it provides a large amount of empirical
data on multiple wh-fronting including widely discussed languages, such
as Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian and Hungarian, as well as less studied
languages such as Basque, Malagasy, Persian, Yiddish. Those who do
research in this area can find a number of interesting cross-linguistic
facts. All the papers deal explicitly with the phenomenon of multiple
wh-fronting addressing the issue from different perspectives. In fact
many papers are interrelated, as the authors come to similar
conclusions yet based on the analysis of different linguistic phenomena
and on different lines of argumentation. In that I agree with the
authors that papers in the volume "are best appreciated when put
together" (p.8). Thus both den Dikken and Grohmann entertain the view
that traditionally classified single wh-movement languages, such as
English and German, in fact move all wh-phrases to the left periphery.
Similarly in Lotfi's and Diesing's analyses obligatory pair-list
reading in multiple wh-questions in Persian and Yiddish results not
from genuine wh-movement, but wh-focus fronting with Q-marker being
attached to the lowest wh-phrase. Again the two authors use different
arguments to build their hypothesis.
All the papers in the book point to the existing interaction between
wh-questions and focus, thus confirming Horvath's (1986) original
insight that wh-movement can be driven by the focus consideration.
Another area of research extensively discussed in the book is the
extended structures of the left periphery (Rizzi 1997). It is obvious
that it needs further articulation (see Rizzi 2001) as it appears that
more elements move to the functional domain than it was originally
thought. The book offers up-to-date analyses of the topic,
incorporating the latest hypotheses developed in the Minimalist theory.
It contributes to our understanding of the mechanism of multiple wh-
questions. Moreover it refines the existing typology of multiple wh-
questions. The contributors also raise a number of questions, hence
identifying issues for further research in the area.
Having said that, I have to admit that proposals presented in the
papers differ in their novelty, originality and quality. Although all
the papers clearly articulate the problems they want to address and the
goal they aim to achieve, in my view, not every contributor is
successful in convincing the reader that the advocated approach is on
the right track.
There is one general comment regarding the use of the linguistic data.
Historian E. H. Carr once wrote: "The facts (in our case language data)
are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger's slab. They are like
fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and
what the historian (or linguist) catches will depend, partly on chance,
but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what
tackle he chooses to use -- these two factors being, of course,
determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch" (p.18). In
linguistics the situation is even more complicated than in history as
language allows great creativity. "Creative, exploratory expressions
are made constantly by speakers ... to facilitate communication as in
changes to avoid ambiguity or to foster easier identification of
discourse roles" (Harris and Campbell 1995:54). The vast majority of
such expressions are never repeated, yet they still can be registered
by researchers. Since there are no "strict criteria" for language
acceptability, very often grammaticality judgements are at the mercy of
In a few papers of the book the reader can come across comments like
"data are not crystal-clear" (Diesing p.69), "there seems to be
disagreement among speakers..." (Grohmann, p.127), "neither sentence is
impeccable" (den Dicken p.96). Of course, the fact is that in real life
we do not deal with "ideal speakers" and "ideal language". However,
couple of time there was an impression that the data was pushed to
accommodate a hypothesis. Thus den Dikken uses a modified example from
Kayne (1998) "*I spoke to only John.", which is starred as fully
ungrammatical. Yet in the original paper Kayne notes that evaluating
the sentence "?John spoke to only Bill." "speakers vary substantially
in their judgements, ranging from fully acceptable to fully
unacceptable" (p.148). The worst in this respect is Reglero's paper.
In the body of the text, on page 194, the author gives example (23)
from Basque "Nork zer erosi du?" ("Who bought what?"). It is followed
by endnote 9 "note that some speakers disallow (23)"(p.221). The
sentence in (23) is not even marked "?" as marginally acceptable.
Reglero further presents an ungrammatical sentence in (24): "*Zer erosi
du nork?" (What did who buy?). Again there is an endnote: "According
to Etxepare and Ortiz de Urbina (24) is grammatical" (p.221). If you
do not know Basque than you are in trouble! In endnote 29 the author
refers the reader to the data in her previous work, however admitting
that the data "are also inconclusive". She comes to a conclusion that
wh-phrases do not move to Spec, SP in Basque based on the fact that one
(!) out of three informants allowed a single-pair answer. Of course
the question arises about the validity of a hypothesis which is built
on such doubtful data. This in no sense means that one should not
explore beyond the "pure grammatical" and put forward daring proposals,
maybe just provide more data whose acceptability status is higher than
There are a couple of minor errors:
In Boeckx' paper there is a mix up with Japanese proper names in
example 6 (p.19): "Hanako introduces professor Tanaka to Mary".
Analysing it on the next page Boeckx notes: "if an object honorific
marker surfaces on the verb, we obtain the odd interpretation that Taro
respects Mary" (indeed odd!).Jeong in his paper refers the reader to a
syntactic tree represented in (16), which never appears in the article.
Boskovic, Zeljko (1997) Superiority Effects with Multiple Wh-Fronting
in Serbo-Croatian. Lingua 102, pp.1-20.
Boskovic, Zeljko (1999) On Multiple Feature Checking: Multiple Wh-
Fronting and Multiple Head Movement. In Samuel David Epstein & Norbert
Hornstein (eds.) Working Minimalism. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press,
Boskovic, Zeljko (2002) On Multiple Wh-Fronting. Linguistic Inquiry,
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Lectures delivered in the University of Cambridge, January - March
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Cheng, Lisa (1991) On the Typology of Wh-Questions. Ph.D. Diss. MIT,
Grewendorf, Günther (1999) The Additional Wh-Effect and Multiple Wh-
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Harris, Alice & Campbell, Lyle (1995) Historical Syntax in Cross-
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Horvath, Julia (1986) Focus in the Theory of Grammar and the Syntax of
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Kayne, Richard (1998) Over vs. Covert movement. Syntax 1, pp. 128-191.
Kiss, Katalin É.(1995) Focus is a Non-Uniform Phenomenon. In Inga
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Olga Zavitnevich-Beaulac is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the
Asymmetry Project in the Département de Linguistique at UQAM. She
received her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, UK. Her research
interests include theoretical and comparative syntax with a focus on
syntax and morphology of wh and yes/no-questions, as well as problems
of optionality in natural languages.