The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 12/15 - Jeremy Hartman

Speaker: Jeremy Hartman (UMass)
Title: What is this construction, that we should be puzzled by it?
Date: Tuesday, December 15th
Time: 10:00am-11:00am
Place: 32-D461

I will discuss the construction exemplified below, where a wh-question is followed by a gapless subordinate clause:

a. What were you doing, that you couldn’t come help me?
b. Where is he from, that he talks like that?
c. Who are you, to make that demand?
d. What did she do, that everyone is so mad at her?

A puzzling fact about such sentences is that their declarative counterparts appear to be ungrammatical (*He is from Texas, that he talks like that, *I was on the phone, that I couldn’t come help you). Sentences like these have not, to my knowledge, received a detailed analysis in the syntactic literature. I will offer some preliminary observations about their syntactic properties, their meaning, and their relationship to other syntactic phenomena, including degree constructions.