Linguistics Colloquium 10/05/12 – Pascual Jos Masullo

Wh-Constructions: A Derivational Account Without Movement

Pascual Jos Masullo
Universidad Nacional de Rio Negro

Friday, October 5, 2012
3:30 – 5:00 p.m.
SMI 205

Within PP/MP, WH-dependencies have been treated in terms of chains headed by a WH-operator which binds an empty category “in situ”. Under a representational view, what counts is whether the chain meets certain locality conditions, regardless of the process that gave rise to it. Under a derivational approach, however, the chain results from a movement operation (leaving a trace behind in traditional GB/PP), or, in MP, from “internal Merge”, i.e. by making a copy of the WH-element in its original position, and merging it with C (thereby checking the relevant feature on C). The original WH is then deleted at PF. In this proposal, I suggest that it is possible to dispense with movement (or internal merge) and still maintain a derivational approach by resorting to (external) Merge only, the default operation freely provided by the computational system. Drawing on Contreras and ¬†Masullo’s (1999, 2002) account of Merge and Feature Percolation, we assume that C [+ INT] selects for an open sentence, viz., a sentence with a variable, as well as a specifier (the operator itself and its restrictors). In this approach, an unchecked selectional feature (or interpretable feature, in the case of adjuncts) is to be analyzed as a variable capable of percolating all the way up to C, where it will be checked by the specifier of CP. As a consequence, barriers to movement are now to be redefined as barriers to feature percolation. We also show that in this approach crossover phenomena (strong or weak) as well as recalcitrant problems like the Coordinate Structure Constraint can be naturally accounted for without recourse to special principles or conditions. A parallel is drawn with WH- in situ languages, such as Japanese. We argue that there is no need to postulate (LF) movement in these cases either, but just merge of an empty OP with an open sentence, the variable in this case being overtly expressed by an indefinite non-referential element. In turn, we account for the differences between English and Japanese in purely lexical and morphological terms: Question words in English are a conflation of an operator and a restrictor, whereas WH-in situ languages do not lexicalize operators, but restrictors only. Thus no need arises to propose a parameter with SS or LF movement as options. Finally, we claim that the other two options available (viz. overt operator and overt variable, null operator and null variable) can be attested as well.

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