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What exactly does the term nucleus refer to in syntax? (I'm not asking about the term in relation to phonetics or phonology).

For example when syntacticians write about left dislocations and so forth they talk about the nucleus of the clause. Similarly in some grammars when talking about free relatives or fused relative constructions people sometime refer to the wh- word as the prenucleus.

Whilst I have a vague intuitive understanding of this term, I don't actually know what it means and haven't been able to find out from the web.

I'd like to know, for example, whether in English sentences with fronted negative adverbials, whether the negative word is occurring before the nucleus of the sentence. For example in the sentences:

  • Never before have I been so embarrassed.
  • Never have I been so embarrassed.

Do the items never or never before occur before the nucleus of the sentence?

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  • I doubt this can be given a single answer for all syntactic uses ever. If a book on syntax uses the term then it will surely also define it too.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 26 '16 at 12:38
  • @curiousdannii Sadly not, it seems. I'm interested in the term primarily in the sense that it is used in when talking about dislocations, for example. In particular, as I say, I'm interested in whether never can be thought of as occurring before the nucleus of the clause in my last two examples. Apr 26 '16 at 12:45
  • If the term is used but not defined in a book, then it's just a convenience of explication and not a formal term. I've never heard it used in syntax with any formal sense. It seems a way to avoid specifying beginning and ending positions as syntactic movement sites, and treating them rather as analogous to prefixes and suffixes on a root in morphology.
    – jlawler
    Apr 26 '16 at 14:32
  • Since never and never before in your examples occur first, they must occur before the nucleus, if there is one, unless they themselves are nuclei. Hope that helps.
    – Greg Lee
    Apr 26 '16 at 16:49
  • I was kidding..
    – Greg Lee
    Apr 26 '16 at 18:12

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