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Query Details

Query Subject:   (non)topicalizability of wh-phrases
Author:   Liang Chen
Submitter Email:  click here to access email

Query:   Dear colleagues,

There seems to be language variation with respec to topicalizability
of wh-phrases in world languages. For example, Lasnik and Uriagereka
(1988:15) notes the impossibility of syntactic topicalization in
English, as shown by the contrast in (1) below.

(1) a. Who said that John likes who?
b. * Who said that who John likes?

In addition,the topicalization of subject is equally bad in English.
In Chinese, however, equivalent of (1b) in (2) is good.

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

It is also possible to construct subject cases.
My questions are:

a. What are the languages which are similar to English or CHinese?

b. In those languages similar to CHinese w.r.t. topicalizability of
wh-phrases, is it certain that the process involved is topicalization?
Say, is it scrambling or other process? How to determine which is

c. It is suggested that the English (1b) might be accounted for in
terms of the conflict of information status of "topicalized' elemen
and 'wh-phrases'. That is: topicalized elements in English contain old
information, while "wh-phrases" seek for new information. Is it the
case that topicalized elements contain old information in every
language? How to determine this?

Any comments and suggested references on this issue are highly
appreciated. As usual, I will post a summary if there is enough


Lasnik, H. and J. Uriagereka. 1988 A course in GB
syntax: Lectures on Binding and Empty Categories. MIT
Press, CA, MA.

Epstein, S. D. 1992. Derivational constraints on
A'-Chain Formation. LI 23: 235-259.

Liang Chen
337 Mansfield Road
Department of Linguistics
University of Connecticu
Storrs, CT 06269-1145

LL Issue: 12.2554
Date posted: 13-Oct-2001


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