Gordon P. Hemsley

Linguist by day. Web developer by night.

Posts Tagged ‘wh-movement’

wh-movement and T→C movement in English interrogatives

Posted by Gordon P. Hemsley on June 9, 2010

While I was doing my take-home syntax final exam (why do I feel like the modifier order is off in that phrase?) a couple of weeks ago, one of the questions got me thinking. The section of the exam was testing our knowledge of wh-movement and T→C movement in questions, and one particular sentence was giving me a little bit of trouble. To try to figure out where things were supposed to move to, I wound up creating what I’m calling a trace table. That is, a table comparing various related sentences and demonstrating the motivation for various movements. (It’s called a trace table because it allows for an easy comparison of the locations of the tracers and the tracees. And yes, I did just make up those words; and no, I didn’t bother to figure out which is which.)

The particular sentences I used for this trace table all had to do with a man, a cat, and the act of stealing.

I haven’t mentioned yet precisely what about the test question was giving me trouble. It was the fact that, in certain situations, T→C movement does not occur in interrogatives. (Questions in English are normally formed using T→C movement, otherwise known as subject–auxiliary inversion.) So, I decided to figure out exactly what that environment was. We’d previously (accidentally) referenced the situation in class before, but we never went into detail. (Someone happened to ask about a sentence where T→C movement did not occur, and the instructor admitted that she’d been trying to avoid those sentences, so as to avoid overly complicating the lesson.) Beyond that, though, I don’t know what research, if any, has been done regarding these situations. (I assume there has been research, but my extremely brief search did not turn up any.)

Anyway, once the semester was over, I decided to formalize and prettify my trace table and put it up on the Web for all to see.

wh-movement and T→C movement in English interrogatives

The dedicated page goes into more detail, but what it seems to boil down to is this: T→C movement does not occur when there is a trace in the subject position (SpecTP) of the main clause.

I greatly encourage feedback about this, but please read the whole page first, as it has much explanation and background, as well as a more in-depth description of my conclusions. (And please pardon my extensive use of parentheticals in this post; I’m rather tired at the moment, and my brain is wandering all over the place.)

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