LINGUIST List 12.2601

Thu Oct 18 2001

Sum: Topicalization of Wh-Phrases

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Liang Chen, topicalization of wh-phrases

Message 1: topicalization of wh-phrases

Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2001 13:50:56 -0700 (PDT)
From: Liang Chen <>
Subject: topicalization of wh-phrases

Dear all,
A couple of days ago, I posted an inquiry regarding
crosslinguistic variation on the availability of
syntactic wh-topicalization. 

Epstein (1992) attempts to account for the impossible
wh-topicalization in English in terms of Economy

(1) a. Who said that John likes Mary?
 b. Who said that Mary, John likes?
 c. Who said that John likes who?
 d. * Who said that who John likes?

However, it seems that the equivalent of (1d) in (2)
is good.

(2) shei shuo shei zhangsan hen xihuan
 who say who Zhangsan very like

I raised the following three questions:

(i) What is the case with other languages?
(ii) How to account for the cross linguistic
(iii) Can the ungrammaticality of (1d) be accounted
for in terms of information conflict between topic and

Although the responses are not overwhelming, they are
really informative and stimulating. I am grateful to.
Dr. Jeremy Whistle, Dr. Kleanthes K. Grohmann, Dr.
Gereon Muller, Dr. Rudy Troike, Dr. Elisa Steinberg,
Dr. Bart Mathias, an anonymous professor and the
linguistlist staff. 
As always,I will post a follow up summary if I get any
more information.

The following is a short and hopefully intermediate

1) The English fact is not clear. That is, some
English speakers find (1b) and (1c) equally

2) The intuitive incompatibility between topicalizing
a constituent (expressing "old information") and
focussing the same thing ("new information") might
explain the ungrammaticality of the English examples
(assuming there is a contrast between (1c) and (1d)).

3) The problem then remains how to rule in the Chinese
sentences, as Wu (1999) provides ample evidence to
show that a fronted WH is a topicalized WH in Chinese
as in (2). 

3) German is similar to English in that Wh-phrases
cannot undergo topicalization. And Spanish seems to
behave like Chinese. Dr. Gereon Muller argues that the
process in question must be topicalization because
topicalization in German triggers verb-second;
scrambling does not. (That said, scrambling of
wh-phrases is typically also not very well possible in

4) It is not obvious to me whether topicalization in
English is a semantically homogeneous phenomenon (see,
e.g., Culicover's work). 

5) It seems there is a gap between syntactic
topicalization and semantic topicalization.

6)There might also be crosslinguistic variation on the
topicalizability of quantified phrases.


Cho, Sungeun and Xuan Zhou. 1999. "The Interpretation
of Wh-Elements in Conjoined Wh-Questions" ms.SUNY
Stony Brook.

Muller, Gereon. and Wolfgang Sternefeld 1996. A-bar
Chain Formation and Economy of Derivation. Linguistic

Grohmann, Kleanthes K. 2000. Prolific Peripheries: A
Radical View from the Left PhD dissertation.
University of Maryland. 

Tang, C.-C.Jane. 1988."Wh-Topicalization in Chinese"
ms. Cornell University.

Wu, Jianxin. 1996. "Wh-Topic, Wh-Focus and Wh-in situ"
University of Maryland Working Papers.

Wu, Jianxin. 1999. "Syntax and Semantics of
Quantification in Chinese" PhD Dissertation.
University of Maryland. [downloadable from the UMD
web-site, , then go to the paper

Liang Chen
Department of Linguistics
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269-1145
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