Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Locality as Linearization

Fox and Pesetsky (2005) make a number of interesting proposals regarding the locality of movement and linearization. In a nutshell, they propose that locality constraints on movement can be derived from the nature of linearization, which takes place cyclically. As Sabbagh (2007) points out, this theory predicts that string-vacuous movement should not be subject to any locality constraints. Sabbagh claims that this is true in the case of rightward movement (specifically, right node raising). How about leftward movement? Is string-vacuous leftward movement impervious to locality conditions?

The following are some attempts to find out. Although constructing relevant examples is not easy, it appears that the answer is no.

The first attempt involves though-preposing. This can front a predicate adjective inside an adjunct clause:

(1) Intelligent though he is, he still doesn't understand simple logic.

Exclamatives can also front predicate adjectives, and they can do so over clause boundaries:

(2) How intelligent he thinks he is!

Now we can try to form an exclamative from though-preposing. This would involve fronting the predicate adjective out of an adjunct clause (the though clause), but this movement would be string-vacuous. The result is ill-formed:

(3) *How intelligent though he is, he still doesn't understand simple logic!

If locality reduced to linearization, (3) should be well-formed. The fact that it is not seems to indicate that fronting out of an adjunct clause is not allowed, even when it would not change the linear order of any of the syntactic terminals.

One might object that maybe though-preposing would not be able to front a wh-predicate in the first place, so that the input to the exclamative fronting would be what is ill-formed here, not the fronting to form the exclamative. So let's try something that does not mix wh- and non-wh-phrases/operations. Here is a free relative, apparently headed by the wh-phrase what, which has undergone wh-movement from object position (object of ate):

(4) What he ate is still available.

The phrase what he ate is the subject of the clause. Subjects are known to be islands to movement. But if islands (locality) were derived from linearization, they should not have any effect if the movement is string vacuous. So suppose we embedded (4) under a question-embedding verb, and tried to question what:

(5) *I wonder what he ate is still available.

The result is ill-formed. It appears to be ill-formed because we have attempted to move what out of the subject what he ate. But this movement does not change the linear order; so if locality were derived from linearization, (5) should be well-formed.

Here is another example, which is analogous to Sabbagh's (2007) right node raising examples. According to him, right node raising is really across-the-board movement to the right. This only needs to be string-vacuous in the rightmost conjunct (but the gap has to be rightmost in all other conjuncts, too). So, if things worked like they should, across-the-board leftward movement should be able to violate all locality conditions if it is string-vacuous in the leftmost conjunct (and the gaps in the other conjuncts are also leftmost). So let's go back to though-preposing, which can front VPs as well as adjectives:

(6) Sit on a nail though he did, he still can't get out of class.

VP-fronting can front VPs across clause boundaries. So, if locality reduced to linearization, we should be able to front the VP sit on a nail out of the though clause. We won't be able to tell in (6), but we will be able to if we try to do it in an across-the-board fashion out of two conjuncts at once:

(7) *Sit on a nail though he did, he still can't get out of class, and though she might, it won't excuse her behavior.

The result is ill-formed. Again, it appears that string-vacuous movement, including string-vacuous across-the-board movement, is still subject to locality conditions (here, the ban on extracting from adjunct clauses).

I hope other people will try to construct other examples. If it is true that string-vacuous leftward movement still obeys locality constraints, as it appears to from the examples here, then it is not possible to derive locality conditions on movement from linearization.


Fox, Danny, and David Pesetsky (2005). Cyclic Linearization of Syntactic Structure. Theoretical Linguistics 31: 1-45.
Sabbagh, Joseph (2007). Ordering and Linearizing Rightward Movement. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 25: 349-401.

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