LINGUIST List 25.3957

Thu Oct 09 2014

Diss: English, Spanish; Lang Acq, Linguistic Theories, Morphology, Syntax: Ebert: 'The Morphosyntax of Wh-questions: Evidence from Spanish-English Code-switching'

Editor for this issue: Danuta Allen <>

Date: 08-Oct-2014
From: Shane Ebert <>
Subject: The Morphosyntax of Wh-questions: Evidence from Spanish-English Code-switching
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Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago
Program: Hispanic and Italian Studies
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: Shane Ebert

Dissertation Title: The Morphosyntax of Wh-questions: Evidence from Spanish-English Code-switching

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
                            Linguistic Theories

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
                            Spanish (spa)

Dissertation Director:
Kay González-Vilbazo

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation draws on the systematic nature of restrictions on code-switching (CS) to provide evidence concerning the morphosyntactic properties of wh-questions in Spanish and English, particularly with respect to inversion. CS allows one to independently control the language of individual words, and their associated syntactic properties, and observe the effect that those properties have on a given sentence's acceptability. In this way, CS becomes a tool of linguistic analysis.
Data comes from Spanish-English CS. Both Spanish and English exhibit a phenomenon known as subject-version, in which the subject is sometimes required to appear after the verb or auxiliary, but the structural requirements vary by language and include various factors. This raises two important questions that are the focus of this dissertation: (i) what head or phrase ultimately determines the word order (i.e. the grammatical subject positions) in a given wh-question? and (ii) what are the restrictions on code-switching between the complementizer head, the tense head, and the wh-phrase?
To answer these questions, a controlled experiment was conducted in which participants provided written acceptability judgments for both CS and equivalent monolingual sentences. In response to the first question, the results of this dissertation provide evidence that the complementizer is ultimately responsible for determining the properties of inversion for a given wh-question. Regarding the second question, the results also provides evidence for restrictions on code-switching between C and T and C and the wh-phrase. In particular, it provides evidence that a code-switch between an English simple wh-phrase and a Spanish C is ungrammatical in embedded questions with a Spanish T.
Additionally, this dissertation serves as one example of an experimental approach to investigating code-switching, particularly with respect to syntactic structure. There are a variety of different concerns that need to be addressed in conducting such research, and this dissertation offers one perspective.
In conclusion, the combination of controlled experimental methods and the unique analytical potential of CS to tease apart otherwise opaque syntactic relationships makes for a valuable tool for addressing a wide range of questions in theoretical linguistics.

Page Updated: 09-Oct-2014