Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 1163–1205 | Cite as

The PRO-wh connection in modal existential wh-constructions

An argument in favor of semantic control
  • Radek Šimík


Recent discussion of obligatory control in the literature mostly concentrates on the issue of which syntactic module (movement, agreement, etc.) is responsible for the establishment of the control relation. This paper looks at the issue of control from a higher order perspective. Abandoning the presupposition that control constituents denote propositions and that, therefore, control must be syntactic, I deliver an argument in favor of the property-type analysis of control constituents and, by transitivity, for a semantic resolution of the control relation. The argument comes from modal existential wh-constructions and in particular from a strong parallelism between obligatorily controlled PRO and wh-expressions. It is revealed that PRO and wh-words form a natural class, to the exclusion of all other types of nominal expressions. This is then turned into an argument of treating PRO (and wh-words) essentially as a logical lambda-operator, naturally leading to the property theory of control. In addition, the article contributes to our understanding of the syntax, semantics, and typology of modal existential wh-constructions. It is argued that at least one type of these constructions, what I call “control MECs”, is embedded (minimally) by a complex predicate BE+FOR which expresses the state of availability (BE) which makes it possible for someone to profit (FOR) from the event characterized by the modal existential wh-construction.


Modal existential wh-constructions Obligatory control PRO Wh-words Syntax-semantics interface 



An earlier and shorter version of this paper appeared as Šimík (2012a, 2012b). For financial support I owe thanks to the Ubbo Emmius Fellowship provided by the University of Groningen (particularly the Center for Language and Cognition Groningen/CLCG) and to the German Research Foundation/DFG (particularly the Collaborative Research Center/SFB 632 at the University of Potsdam). The research presented in this paper was initiated during the work on my dissertation. I would like to thank to my advisors and colleagues from the University of Groningen for their help and support, especially Mark de Vries, Jan Koster, Jan-Wouter Zwart, Aysa Arylova, and Zhenya Markovskaya. The paper was written at the University of Potsdam, where I received valuable feedback and advice from Gisbert Fanselow, Luis Vicente, and Marta Wierzba. I also profited from discussions with Mojmír Dočekal and Daniel Hole. Ideas from this paper were presented at two conferences: Syntax, Phonology, and Language Analysis (SinFonIJA) 3 in Novi Sad (October 2010) and Formal Description of Slavic Languages (FDSL) 8.5 (November 2010). I am grateful to the audiences and in the latter case also to two anonymous reviewers of an earlier version of this paper for their critical remarks and observations. The paper has undergone a substantial improvement during the NLLT review process. I am very grateful to three NLLT anonymous reviewers for their sharp observations and their unwillingness to accept half-baked arguments. The work on this paper would not have been possible without the tremendous help of my informants. While most of the data have been collected for the purposes of my dissertation (see the acknowledgements there), I had to bother a lot of people with further data questions while writing this paper. I am grateful to Aysa Arylova, Ivano Caponigro, Kostadin Cholakov, Joseph DeVeaugh-Geiss, Lena Karvovskaya, Anikó Lipták, Paula Menéndez-Benito, Maša Močnik, Serena Nuzzi, Aynat Rubinstein, Morag Segal, and Luis Vicente. All remaining errors and inadequacies are mine.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PotsdamPotsdamGermany

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