Universiteit Leiden

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Unselected Embedded wh-Questions

  • Christos Vlachos (Queen Mary University of London)
Thursday 15 June 2017
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


In this talk, I claim that a functional D-layer may introduce a wh-question in the complement position of a propositional-attitude predicate (a predicate that does not typically select questions). As regards syntax, the wh-question is the complement of D, while the entire DP is the complement of the predicate. In the semantics, D translates to an existential indefinite that ranges over the set of propositions discharged by the wh-question. This claim completes a so far incomplete conjecture about clausal complement selection that can be traced back to the very beginnings of the theory of Generative Grammar, up to more recent implementations: clausal arguments are dominated by some kind of nominal shell (Chomsky 1995; Rosenbaum 1967; Kiparsky & Kiparsky 1971; Adger & Quer 2001; Kayne 2010; Takahashi 2010; a.o). To motivate the claim above, I look into two types of wh-questions, both of which are instantiated in German (wh-Integrated Parentheticals; Reis 2000, 2001), while only one of them in English (wh-slifting; Ross 1973; Haddican et al. 2014). It has been convincingly shown that both types of wh-questions are comparable to typical wh-scope marking constructions of the German/Hindi sort (Kayne 1998; Reis 2000, 2001; Stepanov and Stateva 2016; a.o.), despite argumentation for the opposite direction vis-a-vis English wh-slifting (Haddican et al. 2014). However, the two types of wh-questions have never been compared to each other, nor is there any consideration about what distinguishes between them. In this talk, I argue that the two types of wh-questions are wh-scope marking variants of a subordination strategy, which extends the strategy proposed for typical wh-scope marking constructions in German by Herburger (1994). To this end, I draw not only from empirical evidence (word order, interpretation, phonology), but also from recent experimental data. Overall, the talk makes three novel contributions, each to a distinct level of linguistic theorizing: its theoretical import is that it completes a picture about clausal complementation that has remained incomplete; its analytical input is that it extends a wh-scope marking strategy (subordination) beyond what this strategy has been designed for; and its empirical value is that it brings together two types of wh-questions (wh-Integrated Parentheticals and wh-slifting) that have not been compared so far.

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