The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Patrick Elliott in Nantes

Patrick Elliott gave an invited talk, “Nesting habits of flightless wh-expressions”, on Monday Nov 25 at a workshop in Nantes entitled “complex multiple wh-constructions”.



In this talk, we focus on a construction involving what Heim (1994) dubs “nested which phrases”, as illustrated by the example in (1). In (1) the in-situ which-phrase “which Russian novel” appears to be itself contained within the complex which-phrase headed by “novel”, which overly moves to its scope position.

1. Which Russian novels by which exiled authors did you read?

Questions with nested which-phrases are puzzling in a number of respects. Sudo (2017) observes that nested which-phrases lack what he calls a “complete de re reading”. This is easiest to see when (1) is placed in an embedded context, as in (2). Suppose I reserve a part of my bookshelf for Russian novels, and Andy doesn’t know what kind of books they are or who wrote them, but knows which ones I haven’t opened (e.g., because they are clean). Sudo observes that (2) isfalse in such a context; when we replaced the nested which-phrase with an indefinite however, the sentence is true. I refer to this as Sudo’s puzzle.

2. Andy knows which Russian novels by which exiled authors I’ve read.

3. Andy knows which Russian novels by exiled authors I’ve read.

Along similar lines, Elliott (2015) observes that nested which-phrases lack a pair-list interpretation. This is easiest to see by embedding a question with nested which-phrases under a predicate which biases a pair-list interpretation of a multiple question, such as “to reel off”. I refer to this as Elliott’s puzzle.

4. Andy reeled off which Russian novel I read on which day of the week.

5. # Andy reeled off which Russian novel by which exiled author I read.

Both Sudo’s puzzle and Elliott’s puzzle, I argue, suggest that the in-situ wh-phrase can’t scope independently of the container. Otherwise, we’d expect nested which-phrases to pattern with other in-situ wh-phrases and give rise to (a) de re readings, and (b) pair list interpretations. In this talk, we argue that the scope of the nested which-phrase is trapped within the containing DP. This straightforwardly rules out a pair-list interpretation. In order to rule out the complete de re interpretation, we develop a generalised version of the scope theory of intensionality, where only expressions at the edge of a pied-piped constituent may be interpreted de re.

Workshop website: https://anamariafalaus.org/workshop/