What’s a <i>Wh</i>-Word Got to Do with It?

Enoch O. Aboh and Roland Pfau

in Mapping the Left Periphery

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199740376
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199895304 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax

What’s a Wh-Word Got to Do with It?

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This chapter proposes a unified analysis for wh-questions and yes/no questions and shows that these are the expressions of an interrogative functional head (Inter) within the complementizer system. Building on Cheng’s (1991) clause typing hypothesis and a discussion of data from spoken and signed languages (e.g. Gungbe, Wari’, and Indian Sign Language), it is demonstrated that languages vary as to how they encode Inter, and whether this head attracts a constituent into its specifier or hosts a question operator (usually distinct from wh-phrases) that first merges there. The discussion further shows that wh-phrases do not generally participate in clause-typing (even in so-called wh-movement languages such as French and English). Accordingly, wh-movement is not triggered by clause typing per se, but results from the structural make-up of the wh-phrase itself. This means that wh-phrases are not inherently interrogative, contrary to what is often assumed in the literature.

Keywords: left periphery; interrogatives; focus; clause typing; question particle; Gbe; sign language

Chapter.  12665 words. 

Subjects: Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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