Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 1–43 | Cite as

Licensing long-distance wh-in-situ in Malayalam



It is generally thought that wh-in-situ, like overt movement, is potentially unbounded. At the same time, certain languages have been argued to disallow long-distance wh-in-situ. This paper argues that even in languages that show apparent clause-boundedness effects, wh-in-situ, like wh-movement, can in principle cross an arbitrary number of clauses. Failure to license a wh-phrase across a clause boundary, when it occurs, can be shown to result from the interaction between wh-agreement and independent operations affecting embedded clauses. Evidence will be drawn primarily from Malayalam (Dravidian), which has been argued to disallow long-distance wh-in-situ with finite embedded clauses. I will show that the relevant factor for wh-licensing is not finiteness, but Ā-movement of embedded clauses, an operation that is common with finite CPs. The core of the problem lies in the fact that interrogative C is a generalized [Ā]-probe that can interact with a number of featurally more specific goals, including the [Ā]-features on the head of the moving clause. It will be shown that this approach can account for a number of facts about Malayalam wh-question formation, including selective transparency of certain finite clauses for long-distance wh-licensing.


wh-in-situ Malayalam Clause-boundedness Long-distance question-formation Relativized probes 



Thanks to Adam Albright, Kenyon Branan, Veneeta Dayal, Sabine Iatridou, Norvin Richards, Roger Schwarzchild, Coppe van Urk, Michelle Yuan, the audience at NELS 46 and especially Danny Fox and David Pesetsky for comments and generous feedback. I am also grateful to three anonymous NLLT reviewers and the managing editor, Kyle Johnson, for extensive comments on an earlier draft. All errors are my own.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and PhilosophyMITCambridgeUSA

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