The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 10/6 — Ömer Demirok

Speaker: Ömer Demirok (MIT)
Title: Free Relatives and Correlatives in Wh-in-situ [practice talk]
Date: Thursday, October 6
Time: 12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

In English (and many other languages), a wh-structure as in (1) can be construed as a free relative or as an interrogative complement. Cecchetto and Donati (2015) refer to this phenomenon as labeling ambiguity and predict that this sort of ambiguity is precluded in wh-in-situ languages, as illustrated in the hypothetical example in (2). This prediction is borne out in many wh-in-situ languages (e.g. Turkish, Laz). However, Polinsky (2015) shows that Tsez has wh-FRs with the pattern in (2).

(1) Sue knows/ate [what John cooked]

(2) “Sue knows/*ate [John cooked what]”

In this talk, I propose a semantic typology for interrogative pronouns that can predict whether a given wh-in-situ language will necessarily lack wh-FRs or not (under the compositional analysis of FRs in Caponigro 2004). In particular, I make the prediction that wh-in-situ languages that compose wh-questions via Hamblin alternatives will necessarily lack wh-FRs (as the composition of a wh-question will not generate a semantic predicate) whereas wh-in-situ languages that rely on covert movement to compose their questions may have wh-FRs. Using intervention effects and island-sensitivity as diagnostics, I show that this prediction holds.

In the second part of the talk, I address the question why some wh-in-situ languages (e.g. Turkish, Laz) have the distribution in (3). A relativization-based analysis of wh-correlatives (3b) in genuinely wh-in-situ languages would constitute a counterexample to my proposal. However, I show that there is in fact evidence in favor of a question-based semantic composition for (3b) (Rawlins, 2013, Hirsch 2015), as would be expected under the proposed typology.

(3) a. * “Sue eats [John cooks what]” (in-situ wh-FR)

b. OK “John cooks what, Sue eats that” (in-situ wh-correlative)