The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 4/5 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: English possessor extraction and LF pied-piping
Date and time: Wednesday April 5, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The colloquial speech of many English speakers permits what looks like possessor extraction, which A’-moves a possessor (1) without pied-piping the rest of the DP (2).

1. Who do they think [[_’s fat cat] is cute]? (Possessor extraction)

2. [Whose fat cat] do they think [_ is cute]? (Standard pied-piping)

This movement is interesting in light of the fact that English is a language that otherwise obeys the Left Branch Condition (Ross 1967), which describes a lack of extraction of the leftmost constituent of a nominal phrase. I argue that despite appearances, the possessum is in fact covertly pied-piped in (1), meaning that there really is no Left Branch Condition exception here. Some evidence for this comes from parasitic gaps, where a possessum stranded in an embedded clause can bind a parasitic gap in the matrix clause, as in (3).

3. [Who did you say[_’s haircut is awful] despite wanting help from PG]?

If who moved alone and didn’t carry haircut into the matrix clause, we expect the PG to be bound by who and so refer to a person. If there was full pied-piping we predict whose haircut to bind the PG, giving a silly reading where you want help from a haircut. By the judgments of most speakers, it turns out that the silly reading is the most salient for sentences like this, with the non-silly reading being absent or difficult. Importantly, we only expect the silly reading to be available if the possessum was covertly pied-piped, binding the PG. von Stechow (1996) argues against Nishigauchi (1990), saying that covert pied-piping does not exist, or at least is not interpreted. In (3), covert pied-piping is interpreted. I also apply the logic of covert pied-piping to sluicing in answers to possessor-extracting questions, and some puzzles regarding free relatives, which don’t pattern as expected.