Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 743–779 | Cite as

Investigating variation in island effects

A case study of Norwegian wh-extraction
  • Dave Kush
  • Terje Lohndal
  • Jon Sprouse


We present a series of large-scale formal acceptability judgment studies that explored Norwegian island phenomena in order to follow up on previous observations that speakers of Mainland Scandinavian languages like Norwegian accept violations of certain island constraints that are unacceptable in most languages cross-linguistically. We tested the acceptability of wh-extraction from five island types: whether-, complex NP, subject, adjunct, and relative clause (RC) islands. We found clear evidence of subject and adjunct island effects on wh-extraction. We failed to find evidence that Norwegians accept wh-extraction out of complex NPs and RCs. Our participants judged wh-extraction from complex NPs and RCs to be just as unacceptable as subject and adjunct island violations. The pattern of effects in Norwegian paralleled island effects that recent experimental work has documented in other languages like English and Italian (Sprouse et al. 2012, 2016). Norwegian judgments consistently differed from prior findings for one island type: whether-islands. Our results reveal that Norwegians exhibit significant inter-individual variation in their sensitivity to whether-island effects, with many participants exhibiting no sensitivity to whether-island violations whatsoever. We discuss the implications of our findings for universalist approaches to island constraints. We also suggest ways of reconciling our results with previous observations, and offer a systematic experimental framework in which future research can investigate factors that govern apparent island insensitivity.


Island effects Norwegian Experimental syntax wh-movement Cross-linguistic variation Scandinavian 



This work was supported, in part, by NIH NRSA grant 5F32HD080331 to DK and NSF grants BCS-0843896 and BCS-1347115 to JS. The authors wish to thank Caroline Heycock and three anonymous reviewers for feedback that helped us improve the paper. Versions of this work were presented at a variety of venues, including the 2015 LSA conference, NTNU, UCONN, and UMASS, where audiences provided insightful discussion. We thank Alex Drummond for creating and maintaining the IbexFarm platform. Susanna Brock, Filippa Lindahl, Ragnhild Eik, and Maria Boer Johannessen provided assistance with the materials, logistical support and helpful comments.

Supplementary material

11049_2017_9390_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (107 kb)
Supplementary Materials


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Language and LiteratureNTNU: Norwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway
  2. 2.NTNU: Norwegian University of Science and Technology, UiT: The Arctic University of NorwayTromsøNorway
  3. 3.University of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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