The (in)distinction between wh-movement and c-selection
Elise Newman
September 2021

This thesis asks the following question: what can wh-movement teach us about verb phrase structure? I examine two apparent interactions between wh-movement and Voice: Mayan Agent Focus and the Double Object Movement Asymmetry (DOMA) (Holmberg et al., 2019). In certain Mayan languages, subject but not object wh-questions require the verb to take a special intransitive-looking form; in many languages with symmetrical passives, wh-moving an indirect object in a passive clause is restricted to contexts in which the indirect object is the passive subject. By contrast, wh-moving direct objects face no restrictions about which argument is the passive subject. Typical approaches to these phenomena take the basic un- derlying verb phrase structure of a language to be insensitive to whether any of its arguments are wh-phrases. In other words, the fact that wh-questions are built from clauses containing a wh-element, while non-questions are built from clauses that lack a wh-element, is assumed to be irrelevant to what we assume the basic underlying clause structure to be in each case — object wh-questions are therefore assumed to be built from clauses that are identical to their non-wh-counterparts; subject wh-questions are assumed to built form clauses that are identical to their non-wh-counterparts, and so forth. On this view, many researchers propose that the so-called interactions between wh-movement and Voice should be explained by constraints on wh-movement from certain contexts. By contrast, I take the opposite approach. I propose that the observed interactions between wh-movement and Voice are teaching us very transparently about the basic structure of clauses that contain wh-elements, which may be different than their non-wh-counterparts. In other words, Mayan Agent Focus teaches us that clauses containing a wh-subject (as opposed to a non-wh-subject) are built in such a way as to feed intransitive-looking morphosyntax; the DOMA is teaching us that indirect object wh-phrases (in contrast to non-wh-indirect objects) are always generated in such a way as to make them the subject in a passive clause. I propose a theory of the features driving Merge in which the underlying position of a wh-phrase is not only determined by the “selectional” properties of verbs, but also by the feature that controls successive cyclic wh-movement through the edge of the verbal domain. Thus, the structure of a verb phrase is not invariant across all contexts — it depends on the features and categories of the elements that are configured inside of it, including the distribution of wh-elements. This approach likewise has implications for clauses that do not contain wh-elements, which I propose account for symmetric and asymmetric A and A ̄-movement in different contexts.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006168
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: MIT thesis
keywords: wh-movement, voice, verb phrase syntax, semantics, syntax
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