The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

24.993 Topics in Syntax: Leftward, Rightward, Overt, Covert: Rules of Linearization

24.993*: Topics in Syntax
Leftward, Rightward, Overt, Covert: Rules of Linearization
Danny Fox, David Pesetsky
Time: Wednesdays 10-1
Place: 32-D461 (but first class will meet in a different room; look for e-mail)

*Note about the subject number: This class was announced as 24.956, but since that same number is being used by Shigeru Miyagawa and Jim Huang for their seminar, we will be teaching ours under 24.993. If you register for the class, please register for the new number, 24.993. This class will satisfy any requirements that mention 24.956.


On the surface, syntactic movement appears to raise two independent questions for the phonology:

  1. Leftward vs. rightward movement: How is the moved element ordered relative to the constituent with which it has just merged — to its left or to its right?
  2. Overt vs. covert movement: Which of the two positions occupied by a moved constituent is relevant for its ordering — its new position or its old position (the trace)?

In this class, we will investigate the possibility that these two questions are closely connected. In particular, we will argue that when a moved element is ordered to the right of the constituent with which it has just merged, the result is covert movement. More generally, we will argue that the answer to question 1 for each instance of movement determines the answer to question 2.

We further propose that the answer to question 1 itself might be predictable from Rules of Linearization that are not specific to movement, but order the constituents of the language more generally. That is, the direction of particular movement operations in a given language may be predictable from other basic word order facts of the language.

Among the topics relevant to this investigation are:

  • (a) Extraposition: Why do extraposed modifiers appear on the right, and why does this type of extraposition appear to influence scope?
  • (b) Scrambling and scope rigidity: Why do OV languages generally allow scrambling but disallow inverse scope in the absence of scrambling?
  • (c) Parasitic gaps: Why does covert A-bar movement license parasitic gaps only in very restricted configurations?
  • (d) Righthand subject phenomena: Why do certain types of fronting, including Locative Inversion and wh-movement, allow or require an otherwise preverbal subject to appear on the right in many languages?
  • (e) Object shift and quantifier movement in Scandinavian languages: Why is Object Shift subject to a requirement of order preservation (Holmberg’s generalization) and Quantifier Movement subject to a seemingly opposite constraint?

Particular attention will be devoted to the implications of our ideas for the timing of linearization—in particular, for the Cyclic Linearization proposal of Fox & Pesetsky (2005).


Part 1: We will begin by sketching our proposals and conjectures over the first few weeks. This presentation will leave many questions open, and will certainly yield many unsolved problems.

Part 2: After this, we will back up and spend the middle portion of the class investigating many of the topics raised in the first part in greater depth. The discussion of these topics will be along the lines of other syntax classes in which such topics are discussed, and will not necessarily be limited to questions that are relevant to our proposals in any obvious way.

Topics will include those listed above, but will also include discussion of other recent work on linearization and movement — especially some extremely interesting discoveries recently reported by Biberauer, Holmberg and Roberts (and colleagues).

Part 3: We hope to be able to return to part 1 (re-teaching it, in fact) in light of what we have learned from part 2 and earlier discussion.


  • Reading assignments throughout the semester.
  • In part 1, we will give some small problems and questions to be investigated.
  • For part 2, students will be asked to collaborate with us and with each other on the presentation of particular topics.
  • Finally, there will be a squib or short paper on some topic related to the class. This squib could reflect questions you have asked, investigations you have conducted, or scathing attacks on our proposals. It is up to you!


Read the paper and handout on extraposition by Fox & Nissenbaum. Many of you have seen this material in 24.952 (or discovered some of it for yourself in a problem set from that class). This work will be our starting point for the topics discussed in this class.

There will be a class website on Stellar, to which subsequent readings will be posted.