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Review of  Wh-Clauses in English: Aspects of Theory and Description

Reviewer: David J. Parkinson
Book Title: Wh-Clauses in English: Aspects of Theory and Description
Book Author: Joe Trotta
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 13.711

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Trotta, Joe (2000) Wh-Clauses in English: Aspects of Theory and
Description. Rodopi, xiii+237pp, hardback ISBN: 90-420-1284-6, $53.00,
Language and Computers: Studies in Practical Linguistics 34.
Announcment in http://linguislist/issues/12/12-272.html

David Parkinson, Natural Language Group, Microsoft Corporation.

Trotta's monograph attempts to provide an investigation of various
formal and functional aspects of wh-clauses in English, and to do so by
remaining largely theoretically agnostic, by combining a descriptive
approach with theoretical insight where appropriate, and by using
corpus evidence to flesh out a balanced picture of this construction
type (mainly from the Brown University Corpus (BUC), but supplemented
by other corpora). This is an approach which may seem eclectic, perhaps
overly so, to North American linguists, especially those most committed
to the generative project; however, for anyone whose main focus is a
desire to know as much as possible about the formal characteristics and
actual distribution of clauses of this type, Wh-Clauses in English
(henceforth WCE) is a fact-filled and remarkably engaging read.

The main goal of WCE is to provide evidence for a four-way division
within wh-clause types, and to investigate the formal and
distributional characteristics of these four types, taking care to
point out problematic areas of this typology. The target audience is
any English descriptive linguist, corpus linguist, computational
linguist, or indeed anyone interested in getting a high-level and
reasonably complete picture of the facts and actual usage of wh-clause
structures in the English language. WCE is structured as follows:

Chapter 1 (Introduction) sets out some of the basic methodological
preliminaries: the background, aims, theoretical approach, corpora, and
organization of the monograph.

Chapter 2 (Preliminaries) sets out the main descriptive tools that
Trotta uses throughout the rest of the study. Of particular importance
is the three-way distinction between wh-phrase, WH-feature, and wh-
clause; for example, in the following example the wh-phrase is enclosed
in angular brackets, the wh-clause is enclosed in square brackets, and
the WH-feature is that abstract quality of the wh-word 'whose' which
permits the wh-phrase containing this feature to be preposed to the
left of the clause:

1. I wonder [<in whose room> the party took place]

Trotta takes all wh-clauses to have the characteristics of
i. containing a wh-phrase with a realized WH-feature;
ii. performing an identifiable syntactic function;
iii. containing a gap.

Point [i] is a binary criterion: anything not containing a realized WH-
feature constitutes a wh-in-situ phenomenon, and although these are
discussed at various points throughout the rest of the monograph, the
main focus is on the range of different syntactic functions and gap
types. The division between short and long movement is particularly
crucial to the analyses that follow: when the relation between a phrase
and the gap which it is related to is contained within one clause, it
is considered to be short movement; otherwise it is long movement.
Here, Trotta makes probably his most controversial methodological
decision. In deciding whether to interpret movement of the type shown
in (2a) as short or long, Trotta uses the substitution test shown in
(2b) as a diagnostic:

2. a. Who(m) did he arrange to see [t] ?
b. Who(m) did he arrange for you to see [t] ?

The result is that constructions in which the verb permits a non-finite
complement clause introduced by a for-to complementizer are to be
considered as biclausal; all other non-finite complementation types are
considered monoclausal. Although Trotta is candid about the
shortcomings of this diagnostic, it is unclear to what extent this
choice affects the quantitative results stated throughout WCE, since
virtually all of the following analyses are stated in terms of the
distinction between short and long movement.

The rest of the chapter is concerned with delineating the objects of
study, and drawing the boundaries around the phenomena that Trotta aims
to investigate.

The real content of WCE is contained in Chapters 3-6, which deal in
turn with each of the four wh-clause types in Trotta's typology.

Chapter 3: Interrogatives
Chapter 4: Exclamatives
Chapter 5: Free relatives
Chapter 6: Bound relatives

Each of these core chapters follows more or less the same internal

x.1. Introduction
x.2. Formal characteristics of the wh-phrase
x.3. Percolation of WH-feature
x.4. Comparison among wh-phrase types
x.5. Syntactic functions of the wh-phrase
x.6. Formal characteristics of the wh-clause
x.7. Movement phenomena
x.8. External combinatorics of the wh-clause

Section x.2 sets out the range of wh-phrase types which may be found in
the particular wh-clause type. For example, in the bound relative wh-
clause, the only wh-phrase types attested are:

3. a. wh-pron; e.g., the man [whom we admire]
b. wh-det + N; e.g., the man [whose books we read]
c. wh-adv; e.g., the place [where we work]

Section x.3 fleshes out the full range of wh-phrase types by
considering which cases of WH-feature percolation are attested, where
this means pied-piping. These two initial sections are the key to
spelling out the formal characteristics associated with the four wh-
clause types that Trotta proposes. Also, there is a great amount of
interesting detail in the quantificational breakdown of pied-piping in
the different wh-phrase types.

Section x.4 presents a quantificational analysis of the various wh-
phrase types, using the BUC.

Having discussed the formal characteristics and corpus distribution of
the wh-clause under investigation, section x.5 turns to a discussion of
the syntactic functions that can be performed by the wh-phrase within
the wh-clause. Trotta breaks these functions down into primary and
secondary functions, where the former stands for some syntactic
function of a clause, and the latter means some syntactic function of
some phrase contained within the clause. Across all wh-clause types,
extraction from a primary constituent position is vastly more frequent
than from a secondary constituent.

Section x.6 continues the investigation of the internal structure of
wh-clauses by discussing various aspect of the clausal material to
which the wh-phrase is left-adjoined, considering such issues as word
order (inverted vs. direct), finiteness, multiple wh-constructions,
ellipsis, and the well-known "matching effect" in free relatives. The
discussion in these sections is valuable, although it is not always
made clear to what extent the variation among the different wh-clauses
with respect to these phenomena flows from formal qualities, or whether
they are driven more by the functional uses to which the various
clauses are put in surrounding phrase structure.

In section x.7 the characteristics of the relation between fronted wh-
phrase and gap(s) is examined in detail, with particular attention to
the position of the wh-phrase (whether or not it is pre-
complementizer), and to the length of the extraction, as measured in
crossed clausal boundaries. The discussion here is interesting,
although any attempt to recapitulate the ongoing controversy within and
between various theories is doomed to incompleteness. Of greatest
interest here is Trotta's suggestion that the position of the wh-phrase
in bound relatives differs from that in the other wh-clause types,
which he argues for on the basis of facts of adverbial placement in wh-
subject relative clauses.

Section x.8 presents a corpus analysis of the ways in which the various
wh-clause types can be embedded in syntactic structure; this section is
organized by the same distinction between primary and secondary
constituent as used in section x.5.

Additional subsections are added where relevant, in order to discuss
aspects of structure and usage particular to individual wh-clause
types. Of special interest and value is a discussion of the distinction
between adverbial wh-phrase and conjunction in the case of free
relatives such as:

4. He needed help [when I called him].

The monograph concludes with a brief summary and conclusions,
appendices, references, and index.

For the most part, the discussion within each chapter follows a
straightforward logic, and relevant data are used to justify the claims
made, or to introduce discussion of problematic areas. Where WCE is
most likely to invite controversy is the proposed four-way breakdown
among wh-clause types. Trotta takes pains to delineate the permissible
clause-internal patterns belonging to each of the four types; however,
one feels that a more forceful argument could have been made in the
preliminary discussion for the proposed typology. Wh-clauses have such
a wide range of internal structural characteristics, and such a
similarly wide range of external functions, that any attempt to
typologize them is likely to leak around the edges. The great virtue of
WCE is that it is clearly presented, the data are consistently grounded
in real usage, and that Trotta is careful to point out the problem

David Parkinson is a computational syntactician in the Natural Language
Group at the Microsoft Corporation.