Cyclic domains in syntactic theory

Date of Completion

January 2001


Language, Linguistics




The dissertation explores a principally non-constraint-based approach to locality phenomena in wh-movement, in particular, impossibility of overt extraction of a wh-phrase out of certain structural domains (‘islands’), and the successive cyclic character of wh-movement across a finite clause boundary. The proposed theory of locality utilizes the idea in the earlier works of Cinque, Bresnan and Cattell, that movement is only possible within a well-defined type of configurations—‘cyclic domains’, and implements this idea in the Minimalist framework (Chomsky 1995, 2000). We argue that under the minimalist view, the notion cyclic domain need not be stipulated; rather, it reduces to a cover term for a phrase marker containing a source and target of movement, in which movement proceeds without intermediate steps. A minimalist theory of cyclic domains is conceptually and empirically superior to the previous transformational theories of locality which are inherently constraint-based. ^ In the first part, we argue, contra traditional theories (cf. ‘Condition on Extraction Domains’), that extractability out of subjects and adjuncts is regulated by different mechanisms of grammar. Overt wh-extraction out of a subject is allowed, but leads to a violation at the syntax-phonology interface if the subject has previously moved in syntax, forming a non-trivial chain. Overt wh-extraction out of adjuncts is precluded in syntax because by the time extraction is supposed to occur, the source and target of extraction are not (yet) within the same phrase marker. This proposal accounts for the cross-linguistic variation in extractability out of subjects and for the apparently universal ban on overt extraction out of adjuncts, and has other welcome empirical consequences. ^ In the second part, we address the issue of the local character of wh-movement in finite clauses. Particular attention is devoted to investigating the syntax of ‘wh-scope marking’ questions, in the framework of Indirect Dependency, developed by Dayal and adopted and modified here. The key proposal is that the syntactic structure of wh-scope marking questions and questions involving ‘long-distance’ wh-movement is fundamentally similar. Exploring this similarity, we suggest that successive cyclicity in long-distance wh-movement is a residual effect of the underlying wh-scope marking structure, and is therefore epiphenomenal. ^