Decomposing Questions

P. Hagstrom, 1998

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The primary proposal of this thesis that in questions, a " Q morpheme must undergo syntactic movement from a clause-internal position to a clause-peripheral position. Throughout this thesis, we develop a syntactic analysis and a semantic formalism for questions that accounts for the facts observed in wh-in-situ languages (focusing mainly on Japanese, Sinhala, Shuri Okinawan, and premodern Japanese).

We contrast two unrelated languages, Japanese and Sinhala, which form questions in an early identical way, but which differ in the placement of Q. We hypothesize that in both languages Q moves from a clause-internal position (corresponding to its overt position in Sinhala) to a clause-peripheral position (corresponding to its overt position in Japanese).

We argue for this movement relation by examining the effects of movement islands and other "intervenors" when placed in the path of the hypothesized movement.We also observe that in both languages, indefinites can be formed by appending Q directly to a wh-word in a declarative sentence. Using this, we develop a compositional semantic account under which wh-words like who are represented as sets of individuals and Q is represented as an existential quantifier over choice function variables. This, in conjunction with the proposed syntax, allows us to derive the semantics both of questions and of indefinites containing wh-words.

More complex issues arise when considering questions with multiple wh-words and with quantifiers. It is proposed that in multiple questions, Q originates by the lowest wh-word. If Q moves to the clause periphery from, a "pair-list" reading will result, while if Q first moves above the wh-words, a '"single-pair" reading results. Through the use of a semantic mechanism called "flexible functional application", this generalization is derived from the proposed semantics of pair-list questions, which are semantically represented as a set of questions. Questions with quantifiers with functional readings and with pair-list readings are also discussed in detail.

Arguments for several more theory-internal proposals are made as well, including an argument for a "single cycle" syntax, and an argument for a type of movement labeled "migration" which is crucially different from "feature attraction."

Thesis Supervisor: David Pesetsky Title: Professor of Linguistics