I am concerned with movement spanning the barrier between two clauses, such as:

  1. What did John say [CP that Mary will buy __]?


  1. What did John say [CP will Mary buy __]? //with the same meaning as the former

So before appearing in the very beginning of the entire sentence what is to move to SpecC of the embedded clause. Why? Can it be caused by altogether different principles at the same time?

Furthermore, according to [Pesetsky & Torrego 2000] that is equivalent to the inversion in the embedded clause in being triggered by uT in the interrogative clause. But these embedded clauses are not interrogative. So, why do these processes occur? I must have lost sight of something...

  • In the aforementioned paper see the footnote 26 about the SpecC embedded: ''26 This requirement might be motivated by ACX, depending on what other movement takes place to other possible landing sites. Otherwise, we assume that other constraints force successive-cyclic whmovement.'' - I can't understand what it is about? Which constraints? Which movements? Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 20:10
  • What did John say will Mary buy? is ungrammatical. It should be What did John say Mary will buy?
    – Alex B.
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 3:25
  • @AlexB, in the Belfast dialect it is grammatical. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 10:11
  • Then you should rephrase the question to wh-movement in Belfast English.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 13:06

1 Answer 1


Well, compare TG ( Transformational Grammar) and GPSG (Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar). TG allows the formulation of rules that perform long distance movement, using the variables of a transformation to stand for arbitrarily long strings of parts of a "proper analysis". For your example, a variable X of the WH movement transformation represents "John Past say that Mary will buy" (labeled brackets omitted), which is the material across which the "what" must move in order to get to the beginning of the sentence. The length of such a string is in principle unbounded, which makes this use of a variable "crucial".

At one time, it was thought that this was the killer argument for TG as against CFG (Context Free Grammar). For any given instance of WH movement, we can allow the movement or not, by fiddling with the details of the phrase structure rules of a CFG, but describing constraints on WH movement in a general way is impossible, simply because there would be an unbounded number of phrase structure rules to modify, but in principle a CFG can have only a finite, fixed number of rules.

This was the significance of the original title of Haj Ross's MIT dissertation, Constraints on Variables in Syntax.

However, if there are actually no rules in natural languages that perform such unbounded movements, then we perhaps no longer have this difficulty of the Ross constraints to deal with. Perhaps things move around in small steps, such as proposed in the successive cyclic proposal, where there are no unbounded movements. The implication is that each step can be constrained in some appropriate way, and so there will be many different ways of violating a constraint on WH movement, for instance, because movement within each cyclic domain is separately constrained.

It was Gerald Gazdar who described how to do this, by using "slash" features in a PSG to describe the distribution of gaps on a constituent-by-constituent basis. For instance, if it is possible for the CP after "say" to contain a gapped NP, we describe that by giving a phrase structure rule

 VP/NP -> say CP/NP

which says that a possible VP with a NP which has been moved away can have "say" followed by a CP from which a NP has been removed. And then, we need also to say that a CP with a NP gap may have the form

 CP/NP -> that S/NP  

which is "that" followed by an S from which a NP has been removed.

In this way, movement is resolved into small steps, each of which can be described with a phrase structure rule (when the movement is actually possible). There is no unbounded movement possible, but we can hope that none is necessary.

One could say, then, that Chomsky's proposal makes use of Gazdar's idea, without giving credit, and without pointing out that the general form of the proposal apparently makes transformations altogether unnecessary.

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