The identity of phasal boundaries has mostly been considered in light of minimal CP-TP-vP-VP structures. The question this paper addresses is where the clause-internal phase boundary lies in light of more complex structures in which aspectual projections intervene between TP and vP. I claim progressive aspect to be unique amongst aspectual forms in English in that it is part of the clause-internal phase, whilst perfect aspect and all higher functional items are contained within the CP/TP phase. This claim accounts for many peculiar quirks of progressive aspect in English, namely in VP ellipsis, fronting phenomena, idioms and existential constructions. On the theoretical front I argue that this division in the aspectual hierarchy is best understood through a variable approach to phases in which the highest projection within a sub-numeration acts as the phase, irrespective of what that projection is. This denies vP of its exclusivity as the clause-internal phase, and allows the progressive layer to project the phase when present. This approach generally sits in line with the move towards a dynamic understanding of phases, as per Bobaljik and Wurmbrand (2005), Wurmbrand (2012, 2013) and Bošković (2013, 2014).
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The data presented in this paper is based on the judgments of a number of native speakers of British English, including those of the author, unless otherwise stated.
I do not assume, however, that phase edges and phase heads are the only potential landing sites for internal merge, merely that syntactic items must proceed via these positions in order to undergo operations in the higher phase. I also do not assume, as per Chomsky (2005) and Richards (2007), that only phase heads trigger Agree.
As detailed in Sect. 6, I will ultimately be assuming a dynamic approach to phases along the lines of Bobaljik and Wurmbrand (2005), Wurmbrand (2012, 2013) and Bošković (2013, 2014). An alternative approach to dynamic phases is that of phase extension and phase sliding, as per den Dikken (2007) and Gallego (2010), respectively. However, I will not be assuming these alternative approaches, at least for the purposes of English.
In this paper I stay away from discussion of infinitival to, which goes beyond the scope of this research.
The assumption that passive and copula be reside in v° is not pivotal for the story. An approach in which passive be is merged in its own vPvoice projection, which is followed by VoiceP, and only then by vP proper, is also possible, and would not affect the analysis.
Unless we have a copular construction, in which case VP is replaced by NP, AdjP or PP.
This results in a system in which movement of the auxiliary is driven by a featural deficiency on the moving element itself. See Bošković’s (2007) theory of foot driven movement for an understanding of how this can occur under current Minimalist assumptions.
I use i/uT to indicate inflectional features rather than i/uInfl as this can be easily confused with the infinitival Inf valuation of these features.
The term ‘uninterpretable features’ usually conjures up associations with LF rather than PF. I use ‘uninterpretable’ here, however, for want of a better term that refers to PF features. It is also possible that the auxiliaries’ inflectional features might similarly be checked at the LF interface, but this can occur covertly in the syntax. The important point is that the overt raising and checking of auxiliaries’ inflectional features is a concern for the PF interface to license the morphological forms that the auxiliaries occur in.
This paper has nothing to say, however, about the licensing requirements on ellipsis.
NP ellipsis is another possible instance of ellipsis targeting the phasal complement if one assumes, as per Chomsky (2005), that DPs constitute phases.
It should be noted that, under this analysis, ellipsis can never target any other constituent, such as the complement of the complement of a phase head.
It has of course been argued that all operations triggered by a single head, e.g. C°, happen simultaneously (Chomsky 2005; Richards 2007). Therefore, spell-out and movement of the operator to Spec-CP would occur at the same time and no restrictions on extraction would occur. This is not the case with PIC II (Chomsky 2000), however, in which spell-out triggered by C° must precede any other operations related to C°, otherwise the spell-out domain of the clause-internal phase would be visible to C°.
This is obviously not the only restriction on high movement, since locality considerations and island constraints also have an effect.
See Sect. 7 for a more thorough discussion of existential constructions and phases.
This observation is difficult to explain under more standard, non-phasal accounts of ellipsis extraction data, which predict VPE to uniformly allow for all kinds of extraction.
Sailor (2012) actually assumes the opposite of this. That is, he posits uniform non-raising of all non-finite auxiliaries, though he then stipulates raising of be and been without any motivation, essentially rendering his analysis subject to the same criticism.
See also Harwood (2014) for evidence involving the distribution of being in relation to low adverbs which strongly suggests that being indeed uniformly raises into the progressive aspectual layer for reasons of inflection.
It is a well-known fact of English that modals also cannot be elided under VPE. Therefore there is no need to enter into any discussion of this issue.
Another way of looking at this is to say that forms of be can be elided, whilst other types of auxiliaries cannot so easily elide.
Cases in which been and be are elided give the impression that something larger is elided, such as PerfP or InfP, the heads of which these auxiliaries raise to. I argue, however, that this is an illusion. As will be demonstrated later, I take optional ellipsis of such auxiliaries to be due to optional raising of these auxiliaries out of the ellipsis site and not necessarily due to optional extension of the ellipsis site to include PerfP or InfP.
The same restriction holds for transitive and ditransitive existential constructions as well.
It has been argued in the literature (Williams 1984; McNally 1992; Moro 1997; Law 1999) that progressive existentials in fact involve a reduced relative clause (RRC). That is, all the material following the logical subject (the associate) is actually contained inside an RRC that modifies the DP associate and is not part of the main clause (cf. (i)). If this is correct, we cannot use existentials to make any claims about VPE in main clauses. The supposed optional ellipsis of progressive be would actually be optional ellipsis of copular be, and the supposed ellipsis of the entire phase observed in (22) and (23) would just be ellipsis of the nominal predicate.
However, although an RRC structure for existentials is possible, Milsark (1974), Barwise and Cooper (1981), Keenan (1987), Lasnik (1995b), Lumsden (1988), Chomsky (2001), Huddleston and Pullum (2002), Caponigro and Schütze (2003), Rezac (2006) and Deal (2009) have shown, with numerous diagnostics, that these constructions can be equally derived from a full clausal structure. Therefore, the conclusions drawn about the behaviour of VPE in existential constructions remain valid as observations about VPE in general.
The construction in (37) was noted by A&H. Thanks to Craig Sailor (p.c.) for pointing out the construction in (38) to me.
See Lasnik (1995b) for the most standard explanation of these facts.
Note that the ellipsis site can be interpreted in one of two ways: the hearer can interpret the ellipsis site as containing have (see (i)), or they can accommodate with a mismatch interpretation without have (as in (ii)):
Both options lead to ungrammaticality: option 2 is illicit because of the identity requirement on be (i.e., there is no be present in the antecedent, so be cannot be elided), and option 1 is unacceptable because deletion of have is disallowed under VPE. Either way, the data demonstrates that have cannot be included in the ellipsis site.
The 20 speakers stem from all parts of the UK, though there is a concentration of speakers from the north of England and the midlands.
An anonymous reviewer also presents the following potential counterexamples, which appear to show ellipsis of non-finite have:
However, of these three sentences, (iii) is the only real counterexample. Many informants judged the sentence in (i) acceptable under an ability reading in which the elided constituent could be read as while Bill couldn’t win the race at that point, in which perfect aspect is altogether absent from the clause. Under the counterfactual reading that the reviewer intended, many speakers had trouble accepting such sentences. The sentence in (ii) presents an instance of subject auxiliary inversion, a phenomenon which is not typical of standard VPE and has often been considered to comprise a different construction entirely. This leaves the counterexample in (iii) which, whilst accepted by some informers, is still considered degraded or unacceptable by others.
Native speakers of English will hopefully notice that the sentence they have just read involved ellipsis of been and that there was no question as to the acceptability of this sentence.
See Kayne (1997) for an alternative analysis in which these cliticised forms actually constitute a distinct form from the perfect auxiliary, namely the complementiser of.
An anonymous reviewer suggests that the clause-internal phase, which in the next section I will argue to be as large as progressive aspect (but no larger), could act as a constraint on the amount of structure that could be minimally elided, but that ellipsis could also optionally target structures larger than this. In principle I am not opposed to this proposal, but in the following sections I show that VP fronting, idiomatic constructions and existential constructions uniformly privilege the same unit of structure, that is, the progressive aspectual layer and not the perfect layer. It would therefore be a mystery why VPE can optionally privilege domains of structure larger than this, but the other phenomena cannot.
An alternative would be to claim that Perf°, when it projects, acts as the clause-internal phase head, with the progressive aspectual layer its phasal complement. This would allow the entire progressive aspectual layer to be consistently included within the ellipsis site. Indeed, Bošković (2014) has claimed exactly this. See Sect. 6.3 for a critical analysis of this approach.
Another potential option is to instead claim that vperf°, headed by have, acts as the clause-internal phase head. In Sect. 3.2 I established that the default option for English is that have cannot be elided, but this only indicates that vPperf should not be included within the ellipsis. It makes no claims about PerfP itself. However, this would entail that as much as PerfP consistently sits within the phasal complement, meaning PerfP should be uniformly targeted by VPE. Since I claim been only raises as far as Perf°, this would incorrectly predict that been is obligatorily elided under English VPE rather than optionally. Moreover, as will be illustrated in Sects. 4, 5 and 7, there is no evidence that any part of the perfect aspectual layer constitutes part of the clause-internal phase. For these reasons, I reject this analysis also.
The difference between Bošković (2014) approach and the one I advocate here is that Bošković (2014) assumes optional auxiliary ellipsis to only be due to a choice between eliding the phasal complement or the entire phase, whereas I assume optional auxiliary raising to also play a role. As will be illustrated in Sect. 4, this optional raising of auxiliaries in ellipsis contexts is crucial in accounting for the VP fronting data, something which Bošković (2014) account is unable to straightforwardly explain. See Sect. 6.3 for a detailed discussion of Bošković’s (2014) analysis.
Of course, more work needs to be done on this area to explain how stranding of PPs and quantifiers is able to occur, and potentially roll-up movement also. These issues, however, are beyond the scope of this paper.
However, the status of Abels’ anti-locality condition is itself rather dubious—Abels claims that it follows from economy (the head H should be perfectly capable of checking its features against its complement, so movement of the complement to H’s specifier position is unmotivated), but this misses the point that all movement to specifier positions is taken to be driven by a special property of (a feature of) H which cannot be checked under Agree, such as a strong feature or an EPP property.
Interestingly it has been noted that idioms can be comprised of both the vP and CP phasal domains collectively:
But these idioms are notably different in not being productive. They are closed-off constructions that cannot be incorporated into a normal sentence since nothing about them is adaptable, not even their clause type (the hash marker indicates loss of the idiomatic meaning):
Svenonius (2005) notes the idiomatic construction in (83a). Thanks to Craig Sailor (p.c.) for making me aware of the idiomatic constructions in (83b) and (83c).
Two apparent counterexamples, which we already encountered in Sect. 3.2, exist to this claim. As previously noted, the following two constructions are dependent upon perfect aspect:
Whilst I do not have a definite explanation for these counterexamples, it is possible that these constructions are not idioms in the same sense that the progressive idioms are. It should be noted that other than perfect aspect, a common element across these two sentences is that neither contain a lexical verb, and instead employ the auxiliary been. It is possible that this auxiliary is an independent lexical item that carries with it some meaning of transit. This is evidenced by the fact that the same auxiliary can be used to similar effect in the closely related language of Dutch:
Of course, the fact that the Dutch instance of this auxiliary is not dependent upon perfect aspect but the English equivalent is remains to be explained. One possibility is that this particular auxiliary is always listed in the English lexicon as been, but is listed more abstractly in the Dutch lexicon.
It should also be noted that most idioms may lose their idiomatic interpretation if you alter the material upon which they are reliant, but the result is still a grammatical sentence. When perfect aspect is removed from the sentences in (i) and (ii) on the other hand, the resulting sentence is entirely ungrammatical, suggesting that these types of constructions are not in fact idioms, but something else entirely:
Another idiom which is sometimes raised as a possible counterexample is the saying The cat has got your tongue, meaning You seem speechless, which at first glance appears to be dependent upon perfect aspect. However, the following two sentences demonstrate that the idiom can be maintained in the absence of perfect aspect:
Rizzi (2005) has made similar suggestions for a variable phase boundary with respect to the CP layer.
Note that if perfect aspect and have were to be included within the first sub-numeration of the clause, they would constitute part of the clause-internal phase when they project. Since this paper has argued at length that perfect aspect does not constitute part of the clause-internal phase, but rather makes up part of the higher phase along with modals, TP and CP, this would be an undesirable consequence. Therefore perfect aspect should be consigned to the second sub-numeration of the clause.
Potential further evidence for the predicational nature of progressive aspect is the fact that it is sensitive to lexical restrictions (Haegeman, p.c.). That is, progressive aspect cannot occur with stative verbs, whilst there are no apparent lexical restrictions for perfect aspect:
This suggests that progressive aspect is much more closely tied to the lexical verb/predicate than higher aspectual forms.
Many languages, such a French, Dutch, Serbo-Croatian and many of the Celtic languages (to name but a few), realise perfect aspect with a copular auxiliary as well. As will be briefly discussed later, this suggests that certain languages are able to include perfect aspect within the predicate, causing a larger clause-internal phase than in English. This may be a point of cross-linguistic variation.
Ramchand and Svenonius (2013) have attempted to provide a deeper understanding of the reason for this cut between perfect and progressive aspect, though this research is still in its early stages. Essentially they define the aspectual divide I have identified along event-situation lines. This may begin to provide a more in-depth understanding of the structural split between perfect and progressive aspect. Nevertheless, further research is required on this topic, especially in the semantics, before any conclusive understanding can be offered. See also Hinzen (2012) for discussion of phases from a more semantic perspective.
A problem with this analysis that Bošković himself notes is that if the lower bound of every phase is demarcated by a lexical item, what serves as the lower bound of the CP phase? TP is obviously not a lexical item, and there does not in fact appear to be any consistent lexical item which can act as the lower bound of this phase.
Despite these differences I am grateful to the ‘highest phrase is a phase’ approach which has been rather influential in the writing of this paper, and generally the two approaches sit in line with a move towards a more dynamic understanding of phases.
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Harwood, W. Being progressive is just a phase: celebrating the uniqueness of progressive aspect under a phase-based analysis. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 33, 523–573 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-014-9267-3