Condition C reconstruction, clausal ellipsis and island repair

Abstract

This paper makes two related but distinct claims concerning the relationship between islandhood and the clausal ellipsis construction known as stripping. The first claim is that (at least a certain version of) this construction is island insensitive: no unacceptability results from having a correlate inside an island. This claim is supported by evidence from a formal acceptability judgment study. The second claim concerns the question of how to best account for this phenomenon of island- insensitivity in stripping: we claim that this island-insensitivity is best explained via the notion of island-repair, i.e., the ellipsis site involves the structure of island yet the ellipsis operation ameliorates island violations as opposed to the alternatives that have been dubbed evasion approaches. By this we mean that the island-insensitivity cannot be explained by positing a smaller, non-island structure in the ellipsis site; while this approach does of course explain the lack of an island effect, we show that it is incompatible with other facts about the crucial example sentences. If we instead assume that movement out of an island is grammatical if the island is properly contained inside a clausal ellipsis site, then positing a complete island structure inside the ellipsis site can explain all the properties of these crucial examples.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Note, there is an important experimental investigation on the structure of Stripping in the literature. Merchant et al. (2013), like the present study, have experimentally investigated fragment answers (or the corrective stripping) in German. They document that when the fragment answer corresponds to the object of the preposition, German speakers prefers to retain a preposition than omitting a preposition in German fragment answers. If the ban on P-stranding in no-P-stranding language (like German) (Merchant 2001) is due to the islandhood of Prepositional Phrase (PP), then what Merchant et al. (2013) is showing is the island effect under ellipsis. Thus, they also show that the ellipsis site involves the structure of islands.

  2. 2.

    Note, Ross (1969) originally did not claim that island violating sluicing is totally acceptable. Rather he claims: “it is perceived to be less ungrammatical” (Ross 1969:276). In this study, however, we follow the standardly reported judgment and we assume that island violations are acceptable under sluicing.

  3. 3.

    We do not aim to show exactly how the ellipsis process ‘repairs’ island violations. The goal of this study is to simply point out that there are cases where the ellipsis site in certain stripping constructions should involve the structure of islands, not alternative non-island sources, suggesting that some version of an island-repair theory is necessary.

  4. 4.

    In some previous literature (for example Griffiths and Lipták 2014), something like (2a–b) are referred to as “fragments,” but we will use the term “stripping” in this study. We assume that most of the time the term “fragment” and “stripping” are interchangeable.

  5. 5.

    Merchant (2004) notes that constructions such as correctives and multi-speaker cooperative sentence construction and certain confirmatory, clarificational, elaborative fragments are island insensitive (see Hoji and Fukaya 2001 for related discussion and Ortega-Santos et al. 2014 and Yoshida et al. 2015 for discussion of related Stripping configurations). One of the aims of the present study is, thus, to validate the Merchant’s (2004) claim for a subset of the relevant fragment constructions.

  6. 6.

    The diacritic () is used by Weir to indicate the prosody appropriate for the ‘implied constituent question’ interpretation such examples receive.

  7. 7.

    Although the remnants in the examples of Contrastive Stripping presented here are proper names, indefinites are also possible remnants in Contrastive ellipsis, as illustrated by Griffiths and Lipták’s examples (22), repeated here. (Non-)Contrastivity is independent of the type of remnant.

    1. (i)
      A: John ate a pizza for dinner. B: No, a salad.
  8. 8.

    As an anonymous reviewer notes, Barros et al. (2014) claim that utterance final contrastive ellipsis correlates improve the acceptability of such island violations examples. All of our stimuli included utterance final correlates. While it may be that the location of the correlate interacts with ellipsis island sensitivity, our concern here, ultimately, is to investigate the structure associated with an island insensitive elliptical configuration, and so we leave a broader study of the factors conditioning elliptical island sensitivity for future research.

  9. 9.

    To determine whether the grammatical type of the remnant (definite NP, indefinite NP, or proper name) within the long dependency conditions affected acceptability ratings, we constructed models for this subset of the data that included Helmert coded fixed effects for grammatical type of the remainder. Model comparisons revealed no main effect of remainder type (\(\chi^{2} < 3.2\), p>0.5), which suggests that varying the types of remnants did not influence acceptability.

  10. 10.

    An anonymous reviewer raises the issue of how Contrastive Stripping would then be expected to compare with Contrastive Sluicing (seen in (i)), which Merchant (2008:148) claimed to be island sensitive. Space precludes a thorough investigation into this related but orthogonal question, but we suspect that Contrastive Sluicing, given the proper context and baseline, may be as island insensitive as Contrastive Stripping.

    1. (i)

      Abby wants to hire someone who speaks GreekF but I’m not sure what other languages.

  11. 11.

    These observations are somewhat surprising given the well-known phenomenon of vehicle change which often eliminates Condition C violations inside ellipsis sites. In general, vehicle change gets in the way of trying to construct arguments that rely on Condition C effects appearing inside ellipsis sites, as we are trying to do here. But vehicle change seems to be blocked in these stripping constructions when the relevant name is part of the remnant (see Hunter and Yoshida 2016 for related discussion, who discovered the lack of Vehicle Change effects in such contexts). Without this generalization it would not be possible to construct the kind of argument we are making in this paper.

  12. 12.

    There is a certain complication with the Condition C paradigm. It has been often claimed in the literature that when the name is embedded within an adjunct, the Condition C violation is avoided, but when the name is embedded within an NP as an argument, the Condition C violation is observed (Freidin 1986; Lebeaux 1991, 1995; Fox 1999). However, as Lasnik has shown convincingly, if we investigate the paradigm carefully, we do not observe the argument-adjunct asymmetry (Lasnik 1998; see Hunter and Yoshida 2016 for the related).

  13. 13.

    We remain relatively agnostic here about to what degree the structure inside the ellipsis site is syntactic in nature (i.e., to what degree it resembles overt syntactic structure). Positing full-blown syntactic structure would relatively straightforwardly explain the Condition C effects we are considering, but if one takes Condition C to be stated at a more purely semantic level of structure (e.g., Steedman 1996) then attributing only that level of structure to the ellipsis site could also suffice. Our main concern here is rather the distinction highlighted by (9) and (10) above, between positing “full-sized” content and positing only “partial” content in the ellipsis site.

  14. 14.

    It is important to note that examples of stripping and examples of non-ellipsis reduced cleft show a contrast in terms of the Condition C effect. For example, five native speakers of English we interviewed found (ia) less acceptable than (ib) in terms of the co-reference between the pronoun and the name (even though all of them suggested that (ib) is not perfectly acceptable). This observation further supports that the reduced cleft is not the source of the ellipsis site in Stripping violating Condition C.

    1. (i)
      a. *He1 will say that Mary took a picture tomorrow, in fact [a picture of John1].
      b. He1 will say that Mary took a picture tomorrow, in fact [a picture of John1] it is.
  15. 15.

    Lasnik (2001, 2005) makes a very similar argument to ours in the context of sluicing.

  16. 16.

    We adopt methodology established by Gordon and Hendrick (1997) and Kazanina et al. (2007) because their methodology allows us to reliably assess the acceptability of the coreference relation between a pronoun and name.

  17. 17.

    To achieve sufficient power in our experiment, we avoided adding other islands as further independent variables. In principle, it would be desirable to check other islands with similar experiments. However, incorporating other islands as independent factors would complicate the experimental design unnecessarily, yet conducting an independent experiment on different islands is practically difficult. Therefore, we focused on just one type of island, the definite relative clause islands (see also the discussion in the Sect. 3.4).

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank Matthew Barros, Sandy Chung, Bob Frank, Tomohiro Fujii, Theresa Gregoire, Norbert Hornstein, Howard Lasnik, Jason Merchant, and Ming Xiang, for their valuable comments and suggestions to the earlier version of this work. We are grateful to the audience of NELS 47. This work has been supported in part by NSF grant BCS-1323245 awarded to Masaya Yoshida.

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Yoshida, M., Potter, D. & Hunter, T. Condition C reconstruction, clausal ellipsis and island repair. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 37, 1515–1544 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-018-9433-0

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Keywords

  • Stripping
  • Clausal ellipsis
  • Island
  • Island-repair
  • Condition C reconstruction