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The Language of Hunter-Gatherers

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The Oxford Handbook of Negation

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Morphosyntax of Wh-questions: Evidence from Spanish-English Code-switching Add Dissertation
Author: Shane Ebert Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago, Hispanic and Italian Studies
Completed in: 2014
Linguistic Subfield(s): Linguistic Theories; Morphology; Syntax; Language Acquisition;
Subject Language(s): English
Director(s): Kay González-Vilbazo

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.