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Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. The syntax of in-situ wh-expressions is much-debated. At least three camps of analysis can be found in the literature: (i) wh-phrases covertly move to C (e.g. Huang 1982), (ii) some Q-related operator, not the wh-element itself, undergoes movement (Hagstrom 1998; Cable 2010) and (iii) there is no movement at all (Baker 1970; Reinhart 1998). As will be shown in Sect. 2, a covert-movement analysis is not supported by the Malayalam data. For present purposes, I will assume that Malayalam wh-phrases remain in their base position. The syntactic link between the wh-expression and its scope position is taken to be established via Agree.

  2. There is debate as to what counts as a finite clause in Malayalam. For instance, Amritavalli and Jayaseelan (2005) argues that only clauses that can host certain modals, mood morphology and “high” negation can be considered finite. Though this debate is not crucial to the issues in this paper—it will be shown shortly that finiteness is not a relevant factor for wh-scope—the relevant finite clauses in the examples used in this section satisfy the aforementioned criteria of finiteness.

  3. See Sect. 5 for evidence that Malayalam clefts involve overt movement.

  4. See Dryer (1991) for a typological survey showing that movement of medial clauses to a peripheral position is commonplace for SOV languages.

  5. Mohanan (1982) argues that what matters for binding in Malayalam is linear precedence. This does not seem to be the case for the dialect spoken by my informants (from the Pathanamthitta region of Kerala, India).

  6. The precise reason for the restriction to Ā-movement is debated. Nissenbaum (2000), for instance, proposes that parasitic gaps involve the composition, by way of Predicate Modification (Heim and Kratzer 1998), of two predicates of type \(\left \langle e,t \right \rangle \), one derived by null-operator movement and the other by overt movement. The Ā-movement constraint follows if only this type of movement leaves the sort of variable that would result in the requisite type \(\left \langle e,t \right \rangle \) predicate.

  7. A word of caution is in order, however, since certain properties of Malayalam make parasitic gap licensing a less-than-perfect diagnostic for Ā-movement in this language. Malayalam is a topic-drop language (Ross 1982; Huang 1984), so it is possible to ameliorate the ill-formedness of unlicensed gaps in the right contexts by imagining a dropped topic in that position. But such a strategy is generally difficult where no prior discourse exists to license topic-drop. Thus, in the absence of a rich context, there is a contrast between truly grammatically licensed gaps and those “rescued” by a topic-drop strategy. We see this when comparing a parasitic gap in a cleft construction (ii) versus a passive (i); in the absence of a rich context, the cleft sentence with a gap is grammatical, but the passive sentence is quite odd.

    1. (i)
      figure u
    1. (ii)
      figure v
  8. Embedded clauses with pronominal subjects are more acceptable in a medial position than those with lexical subjects, though dispreferred in comparison to embedded clauses with null subjects.

    1. (i)
      figure ab

    This gives preliminary evidence that the acceptability of medial clauses is not categorical, but gradient, a property that would be difficult to capture under analyses on which fronting is an operation that is obligatory for finite clauses. Relevantly for present purposes, the availability of wide-scope for embedded wh-questions correlate with fronting, even for these kinds of examples, as shown in (ii).

    1. (ii)
      figure ac

    For ease of exposition, however, I will restrict my examples to the clear-cut cases of acceptable (null subjects) and unacceptable (overt lexical subjects) medial clauses.

  9. This could be related to the fact that canonically subjects are construed as topical in Malayalam (see e.g. Mathew 2014).

  10. Note that in scrambling configurations, it is the scrambled element that receives prominence and heads its own phonological phrase (Swenson et al. 2015). As pointed out by an anonymous reviewer, we then expect that clauses that otherwise could remain in-situ are forced to front if scrambling has taken place. This prediction seems to be borne out, as shown in (i) below. The form in (b), where the direct object has scrambled to the left of the indirect object, but the clause remains in-situ, is degraded in comparison to (c), where that clause has fronted.

    1. (i)
      figure ag
  11. Though I have presented the prosodic requirements at play as obligatory rules for ease of exposition, they can be reformulated as violable constraints and incorporated into an Optimality Theoretic Model and the same conclusions should follow. However, doing so involves making claims about the syntax-prosody interface (e.g. what constitutes the input that defines the competing candidates) that go beyond the scope of this paper.

  12. Not every one of these analyses take clausal movement to take place in the syntax, as I have argued is the case in Malayalam.

  13. It is very difficult to form examples of the sort in (40) or (41) in Malayalam due to a number of language-specific confounds:

    1. 1.

      Since Malayalam has short scrambling, it is often impossible to tell whether we have crossing paths or whether movement of a potential Minimality-violator is fed by scrambling (see e.g. Wiltschko 1997).

    2. 2.

      Malayalam does not permit scrambling across a finite-clause-boundary (a fact that is independent of clause fronting), so one might consider constructing sentences where the two interacting elements are separated by a finite clause boundary. However, these examples would frequently implicate a third factor, namely Ā-movement of the finite clause.

    3. 3.

      I was able to come up with examples like (i), which avoid the aforementioned problems, but they introduce a confound of their own, as they involve extraction from a wh-island.

    1. (i)
      figure au

    Consequently, the remnant movement cases above are, as far as I can tell, the most clear-cut evidence in the language for Ā-interactions.

  14. An alternative would be to posit that finite clauses in Malayalam are not phasal. Some researchers have argued in favor of a more contextual approach to phasehood (see e.g. Bošković 2005; Bošković 2014). Adjudicating between the two alternatives is not important for us at present, as the current proposal is compatible with either one.

  15. Though the question morpheme is not overtly present in wh-questions, I will follow Hagstrom (1998) and Cable (2010), among others, in assuming that a phonologically null variant is nevertheless present. Additional support for this comes from the fact that in pre 19th-century Malayalam, the question particle -oo was pronounced even in wh-questions (Jayaseelan 2001).

  16. Since in the Ā-domain, Agree is not accompanied by morphological cues to the feature-specifications on the probe, we can only infer the feature-structure based on what kinds of elements the probe does and does not interact with. We reason that H is not equipped with a flat probe, because fronting can take place past an intervening Ā-feature-bearing element, as shown in (i). In (i), a cleft sentence, fronting of the embedded clause successfully takes place within the cleft-clause, although Ā-features are active on an intervening matrix subject.

    1. (i)
      figure bc
  17. One of these alternatives involves violating a syntactic locality constraint generally taken to be fundamental, whereas the other involves illicit prosody. We might expect that derivations involving the prosodic violation are more tolerable than those involving the former. Testing this prediction is difficult, as it involves comparing ill-formedness of different types, but my informants do find wh-in-situ with medial heavy clauses to be somewhat better than wh-in-situ inside fronted clauses.

  18. Thus far, we have restricted our attention to single wh-questions. The pattern of wh-licensing is the same in multiple wh-questions when there are one or more matrix-scope taking embedded wh-phrases: the wh-question is licensed when the clause is medial, but blocked when it is fronted, as shown in (i).

    1. (i)
      figure be

    The approach advocated here should account for cases like (i) under the assumption that there are as many Ā-probes as there are wh-goals: the first Ā-probe will find the matrix wh-phrase, but the second probe will find the Ā-features on the clause first.

    The situation is slightly different, though no less fatal, for cases like (ii), where there are multiple wh-phrases within the embedded clause.

    1. (ii)
      figure bf

    In such cases, we would expect that the first Ā-probe find and Agree with the intervening [fr] features. These features will be inactive thereafter, making it possible for the second Ā-probe to find one of the wh-phrases. However, in such a derivation, the clause should not be able to front, as the probe triggering this movement will not be able to find the requisite [fr] features. Thus, sentences like (ii), where the clause has fronted, cannot be generated.

  19. It is also the case that clefts are prosodically distinct from canonical sentences, with main stress falling on the clefted constituent (e.g. Swenson et al. 2015). It could be the case that prosodic ill-formedness that could lead to clausal movement in canonical sentences simply do not arise in cleft configurations.

  20. Given that clefting interacts with clausal fronting, another Ā-operation, as seen in e.g. (47) earlier, it is possible that the Focus head bears a generalized probe. However, since this distinction does not make a difference for present purposes—it is the order of the heads that matters—I will mark the head as bearing [Foc]-features for ease of exposition.

  21. A reviewer wonders why Malayalam permits successive-cyclic Focus-movement in clefts, but the same strategy is not available in wh-questions. All that I am able to say about this at present is that Malayalam simply does not (overtly or covertly) move its wh-phrases to C, in short or long-distance questions (see evidence in Sects. 2.1 and 5.2 above). It is beyond the scope of this paper to offer an explanation for why Malayalam wh-elements fit into the typology as they do.

  22. For Jayaseelan, clausal complements are base-generated to the right of the verb and move to a preverbal position like other internal arguments. However, because of a dispreference in the language for center-embedding, they extrapose.

  23. Like clausal fronting in Malayalam, the post-verbal clause position does not have obvious semantic or information-structural correlates.

  24. A number of authors have attempted to account for the binding facts within an anti-symmetric approach (Mahajan 1997; Simpson and Bhattacharya 2003; Simpson and Choudhury 2015). These authors take SVO to be the “default” word-order and argue that nominals get to a pre-verbal position via leftward movement, likely for Case reasons. I will not adopt this analysis here for a number of reasons. First, such an approach fails to explain the optional post-verbal positioning of non-finite clauses. Second, anti-symmetric approaches cannot explain the correlation between clause position and wh-scope and take them to be spurious (Simpson and Choudhury 2015). If patterns of restricted wh-scope across languages reflect the same underlying phenomenon, then the Malayalam data we saw in previous sections provide a compelling argument against such a view. The Malayalam fronted clauses we examined here do not appear in a post-verbal position to begin with and therefore the clausal movement patterns cannot be explained by resorting to anti-symmetry. On the other hand, an overt movement approach can capture the patterns in both Hindi-Urdu and Malayalam in a uniform fashion. For further arguments against anti-symmetric approaches, I refer the reader to Bhatt and Dayal (2007).

  25. Note that Malayalam does not allow cases like (76).

  26. Malayalam, unlike Hindi, does not allow scrambling as a rescue strategy, a fact that relates to the fact pointed out in fn. 13 that Malayalam disallows long-distance scrambling altogether. While I do not have an explanation for why this is, it should be pointed out that having short-scrambling, while lacking long-scrambling is a property that the language shares with many others, e.g. German, Mandarin, Czech, Tzezm Nez-Perce, a.o. Another long-distance question formation strategy in Hindi-Urdu is scope marking. One might ask whether the same is true for Malayalam. Since we never find cases in which one wh-element marks the scope of a different pronounced wh-element, I take it to be the case that scope-marking as found in languages like Hindi-Urdu, German, Hungarian, Russian, etc. does not exist in Malayalam (though see Jayaseelan 2004 for a differing view). We are grateful to a reviewer for raising these questions.

  27. As pointed out in Ouhalla (1996), Iraqi Arabic does not allow scrambling, which suggests that this is genuine wh-movement.

  28. It is worth noting that analyses positing wh-in-situ-specific locality conditions are also empirically inadequate when it comes to Iraqi Arabic. As was noted by Wahba (1991), restrictions on long-distance wh-question formation in Iraqi Arabic seem to extend beyond embedded wh-in-situ; long-distance movement of non-nominal wh-phrases is also blocked in the language, as shown in (1).

    1. (1)
      figure cf

    Thus, a full account of Iraqi Arabic long-distance question-formation would need to provide explanations for both (i) the apparent ban on long-distance wh-in-situ and (ii) the asymmetry between nominal and non-nominal wh-expressions when it comes to overt wh-fronting.

  29. Another language that has clausal movement and allows wh-in-situ is German, and a reviewer asks what the present analysis predicts for this language. Finite clauses appear in an extraposed position, but they are often taken to right-adjoin to a lower position than CP (Müller 1996; Moulton 2015, a.o). This would mean that the probe triggering this movement is lower than C, and an intervention configuration should in principle be avoided.

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Acknowledgements

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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Aravind, A. Licensing long-distance wh-in-situ in Malayalam. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 36, 1–43 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-017-9371-2

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