Lies, do you think that she tells you?

  1. Is this sentence grammatical?
  2. Is the whole sentence a CP, in which lies is the CP Specifier and do is the head C?
  3. If yes, is that the C head of a second CP in the original CP? Or is the CP that she tells you the same, original CP, since the NP Lies is again the CP Specifier?

1 Answer 1

  1. This sentence is ungrammatical.
  2. The whole sentence is a CP, the NP lies was extracted from an embedded VP-shell to the uppermost Spec,CP position. do is also in C, it was moved from I to form the question (auxiliary inversion).

  3. This sentence contains three CPs:

*[CP lies[CP [C do [IP you [VP think [CP [C that [VP she [V tells[VP you [V t [DP {moved lies}]]]]]]]]]]]]

This is an example of object topicalization in English. The second NP object lies of the verb tell was extracted (moved) from an embedded position into the highest Spec,CP position (remember scope over clause I explained the other day).

The first CP, i.e., [CP lies.., is a topic projection, its specifier is occupied only by topicalized elements, not wh-moved elements. This is why we need a second CP, i.e., [CP [C do.., to provide a position of the moved auxiliary to form a question (auxiliary inversion). The third CP is the intermediate CP that is headed by the relative complementizer that. This CP provides Spec,CP as an embedded position for movement to rest it.

Now, this movement is ungrammatical, hence the ungrammaticality of the sentence. But why?

Topicalised objects are expected to have scope over the CP, in this case there're more than one. It cannot have scope over all the three CPs. The argument for this claim is a sentence where we remove these additional CPs, and get a grammatical version:

Lies, she tell you.

  • i agree this might be unacceptable out of the blue like this, but i'm certain this kind of sentence is grammatical in context. i found a couple examples like it in ginzburg & sag (2001), for example: "that kind of antisocial behavior, can we really tolerate in a civilized society?" this is attributed to radford's (1988) textbook. it seems to be easier (to me at least) to get this to work out of the blue with PP topicalization, e.g. "about her private life do we know anything?" from WCCFL 15 proceedings by eric potsdam. May 12, 2020 at 2:30
  • how many CPs are involved in your examples?
    – Tsutsu
    May 12, 2020 at 11:28

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