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The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 11/13 - Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Date and Time: Tuesday, November 13, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Abstract:
 

There has been a debate about whether non-clausal elements can be coordinated, i.e. whether coordination of elements smaller than TP and VP is possible, such as DP coordination and PP coordination (e.g. Gleitman 1965, Ross 1967, McCawley 1968, Hankamer 1979, Schein 2017, Hirsch 2017). In this talk, I will provide arguments supporting coordination of non-clausal elements based on the position of ‘either’ and the scope of disjunction. 

Once we allow non-clausal elements to be coordinated, we can explain a puzzle about adjunct fronting in ‘whether‘-clauses and ‘if‘-clauses. My analysis of this puzzle involves the following components: (a) non-clausal elements can be coordinated; (b) ‘whether’ can pied-pipe adjacent materials in moving to Spec, CP, whereas phonologically null elements cannot pied-pipe; (c) it is not possible to sub-extract out of an A’-position (e.g. a topicalized phrase does not allow sub-extraction).

I will briefly describe the puzzle below. While both ‘whether‘-clauses and ‘if‘-clauses allow the Alt(ernative) reading in (1), when the PP disjunction is apparently fronted to immediately follow ‘whether’/’if’, only ‘whether‘-clauses obtain the Alt reading (2), and the Alt reading is lost in ‘if‘-clauses (3).

(1) I don’t know whether/if John will arrive on Saturday or on Sunday.
✓Alt Reading: I don’t know whether John will arrive on Saturday or he will arrive on Sunday.
✓Yes/No (Y/N) Reading: I don’t know whether John will arrive on a weekend day or he won’t arrive on a weekend day at all.

(2) I don’t know whether on Saturday or on Sunday John will arrive. (✓Alt; ✓Y/N)
(3) I don’t know if on Saturday or on Sunday John will arrive. (*Alt; ✓Y/N)

This puzzle parallels another puzzle previously observed in the literature. When ‘or not’ is at the end of the sentence, we can get Y/N reading for both ‘whether‘-clauses and ‘if‘-clauses (4). But when ‘or not’ is apparently fronted, only ‘whether‘-clauses obtain the Y/N reading (5), and ‘if‘-clauses become ungrammatical (6).

(4) I don’t know whether/if John will arrive this weekend or not. (✓Y/N)
(5) I don’t know whether or not John will arrive this weekend. (✓Y/N)
(6) *I don’t know if or not John will arrive this weekend. (*Y/N)

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