The Status of 'Wh-Expletives' and the Partial Wh-Movement Construction of Hungarian

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This paper explores the cross-linguistic status of the so-called Wh-scope-marker strategy of wide scope assignment through the study of its instantiation in Hungarian, assessing the role and distribution of the expletive-like Wh-element (what). After establishing the existence of the construction in Hungarian via novel types of arguments, a variety of evidence is presented showing the inadequacy of the leading analysis of Wh-expletive constructions with overt partial Wh-movement: proposals based on the formation of a Wh-chain linking the scope-marking Wh-expletive in the higher Spec with the partially moved contentful Wh-phrase, in a way that mimics overt full Wh-movement chains (originating in McDaniel's (1989) work on German and Romani, assumed subsequently, with some modifications, e.g. by Rizzi (1992), Brody (1993), McDaniel, Chiu and Maxfield (1995) and Müller (1995)). I motivate an alternative account, falling within the general framework of an indirect Wh-dependency approach proposed by Dayal (e.g. 1994, based on the in-situ Wh of Hindi). I argue that the scope-marker of Hungarian is not an A-bar expletive, but an expletive element generated in an A-position which has a CP as its associate, and which undergoes (overt) movement to an A-bar position due to being a Wh-morpheme. The construction is shown to arise as a by-product of independently motivated processes: (a) Wh-feature percolation from Spec, as in (clausal) pied-piping cases, and (b) an expletive-CP association, argued to be due to needs inherent to clausal complementation in the language and independent of any Wh-feature or scope-assignment. In spite of the shared indirect Wh-dependency concept and the assumption of CP being the 'associate', Dayal's particular analysis (1994) is shown to be empirically distinct from mine, and to be untenable for Hungarian, as well as for German. An initial three-way comparison of Hungarian vs. Hindi vs. German suggests that (at least) the syntactic implementation of the Wh-expletive strategy is different in each of the three languages. So contrary to earlier conceptions, this phenomenon does not arise from some unitary parametric source, such as the availability of a Wh-expletive morpheme; rather it seems to be parasitic on independent syntactic properties exhibited by the individual languages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-572
Number of pages64
JournalNatural Language and Linguistic Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997


  • Linguistic complements
  • Expletives
  • Linguistics
  • Syntactics
  • Syntactical antecedents
  • Grammatical constructions
  • Interrogatives
  • Grammatical clauses
  • Verbs
  • Empirical evidence
  • Artificial Intelligence (incl. Robotics)
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Linguistics (general)
  • Language & Linguistics
  • Social Sciences
  • clause
  • Dayal
  • Veneeta
  • Wh-movement
  • scope
  • Hindi-Urdu language
  • syntax
  • Hungarian language
  • German language (New High)
  • Syntax
  • Descriptive studies and applied theories
  • Wh phrases
  • German
  • Romany (Language)
  • Hindi language
  • Scope
  • Syntactic structures
  • Syntactic movement
  • Morphemes
  • Existential constructions
  • Complementation
  • Hungarian
  • Clauses


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