Adventures in Long-Distance Moving: The Acquisition of Complex Wh-Questions

R. Thornton, 1990

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          This thesis investigates the acquisition of long-distance questions and the principles of Universal Grammar that govern them (Chomsky 1981;1986). The questions under investigation are all ones in which a Wh-phrase is moved from an embedded clause, leaving a Wh-trace at the extraction site. Using an elicited production methodology, it is demonstrated that even three-year-old children readily produce a variety of long-distance questions. The methodology is refined to probe children's knowledge of two principles that constrain production of long-distance questions. One principle governs wanna contraction, prohibiting contraction across a Wh-trace in extracting from infinitival clauses, as in (1). The second principle, the Empty Category Principle (ECP), restricts extraction from the subject of a tensed embedded clause, ruling out questions like (2) with an overt complementizer (that):

(1)     *Who do you wanna help you?

          (cf. Who do you want to help you?)

(2)     *Who do you think that's in the box?

          (cf. Who do you think is in the box?)

Another methodology, the Truth Value Judgment task, supplements the data from elicited production by studying a constraint that restricts the meanings that can be assigned to long-distance questions. This constraint of "Strong Crossover" prohibits Wh-movement over a pronoun with the same index, ruling out a bound interpretation of the pronoun, as indicated in (3):

(3)     *Whoi does hei think ti has a hat?

          (cf. Whoi thinks hei has a hat?)

The findings were that children adhered to the constraints on wanna contraction and Strong Crossover. In extracting from tensed clauses, however, several children consistently produced ungrammatical questions like (2), in apparent violation of the ECP. Other non-adult questions like (4) appeared. I call these "medial-Wh" questions.

(4)     Who do you think who's in the box?

To explain the problematic data, I explore several current formulations of the ECP. A version by Rizzi (1990) is seen to provide a unified explanation of children's exceptional questions of both kinds. In this framework, these questions are not interpreted as ECP violations but, rather, as attempts by children to preserve the ECP. In sum, the findings support the view that, by three, children have mastered long-distance movement questions and the constraints that apply to them.

Theoretical Issues                                                                            1

Wanna Contraction                                                                             10

The Empty Category Principle                                                             19

Strong Crossover                                                                               23

          The Principle C Approach                                                        28

          The Principle B Approach                                                         34

          Weak Crossover                                                                      39

          Limitations of Principle B                                                          41

Experimental Studies                                                                       48

Experiment on Wanna Contraction                                                       63

          Elicitation of Questions from the Wanna Contraction Paradigm     63

                    Subjects                                                                       63

                    Experimental Design                                                      64

                    Materials                                                                      65

                    Results                                                                                   67

          Experimental Studies on the ECP                                               72

                    Phinney (1981)                                                             72

                    Elicitation of Questions from the That-Trace Paradigm      78

                               Subjects                                                             79

                               Experimental Design                                            80

                               Materials                                                            80

                               Results                                                                         83

          Experimental Studies on Strong Crossover                                  92

                    Roeper, Rooth, Mallis and Akiyama (1985)                       99

                               Experimental Design                                           100

                               Critique of Roeper et al. (1985)                            104

          McDaniel and McKee (in press)                                                 118

          Theoretical Proposals                                                              134

                    A Representational Account: Roeper et al. (1985); Roeper

                    (1990)                                                                          136

                    A Derivational Account of Crossover Violations: Lebeaux

                    (1988)                                                                          142

          New Experiments on Strong Crossover                                      150

                    Experimental Innovations                                               152

                    Theoretical Issues                                                         155

          Truth-Value Judgment Experiments of Strong Crossover             163

                    Subjects                                                                       163

                    Materials and Procedures                                               163

                    Results                                                                                   182

                    Discussion                                                                    188

          Elicitation of Crossover and Bound Pronoun Questions                193

                    Subjects                                                                       195

                    Materials                                                                      195

                    Results                                                                                   199

Children's Exceptional Questions                                                     204

Wh-movement Across Languages                                                       209

          Movement Options                                                                   210

          Partial Movement                                                                     215

          Wh-Copying                                                                            218

Medial-Wh Questions and Parameter Theory                                                    222

          Wh-Movement Parameters                                                        223

          The Subjacency Parameter                                                        227

The Derivation of Medial-Wh Questions                                                231

ECP Explanations of Medial-Wh Questions                                            240

          The ECP in the Lasnik and Saito Framework                                         240

          ECP Parameter-Based Explanations                                            244

The ECP in the Rizzi (1990) Framework                                               252

          Spec-Head Agreement Across Languages                                   260

Children's Long-Distance Questions                                                     269

          Evidence against That-trace Questions as ECP Violations             272

          An ECP Preservation Account of That-Trace Questions               276

          A Parallel Analysis of Children's Medial-Wh questions                  285

          Why Children Use an Overt Form                                              295

          Converging on the Adult Grammar                                             301

          Relative Clauses                                                                       305

          A Puzzle                                                                                 309

          Issues of Competence and Performance                                     310

References                                                                                       322