I read a nice little paper that I would like to bring to your attention. The article(by Alison Henry) is ostensibly about Q-float in varieties of Irish English and it elaborates a point made in earlier work by Jim McCloskey (2000). Jim’s paper used the distribution of quantifiers floated off of WH elements to provide evidence for successive cyclicity (the Qs could be stranded in what are effectively phase edges (aka “escape hatches”)). You are all likely more familiar with this work than I am so I won’t review it here. Henry’s interesting paper makes three additional interesting points:
1. The paper observes that the Q stranding provides evidence for vP as a phase edge as it seems possible to strand material in this position in several dialects.
2. The parallel between the stranding facts in A’ movement configurations with that of Q float in A-movement configurations suggests that these should be treated uniformly andthis implies that Q-float in A-movement configurations piggy backs on movement as Sportiche originally suggested rather than these Qs being based generated like adverbials in vP edge positions for semantic reasons.
3. It suggests an interesting way of parsing these Q stranding effects to shed light on what wrt the phenomenon reflects universal features of FL/UG and what is more G specific.
Like I said, this is a nice little paper and a quick and illuminating read. Before ending, let me say a word or two about the points above.
First, if correct, it provides as the paper notes, interesting evidence for the claim that vP is a phase edge. There is also counter evidence for this claim coming from Keine and Bhatt’s work on non-local agreement in Hindi (thx to Omer for bringing this to my attention). However the Henry data seems compelling, at least to me, and clearly points to something like a landing site under CP for A’-movement. At the very least this now sets up a nice research question for some ambitious syntax grad student: how to reconcile the Irish English data with the Hindi data. Good luck.
The paper’s second point also seems to me quite solid. If the stranding data under A-movement is a proper subset of that under A’-movement then it is hard to see what could motivate treating them as generated by entirely different mechanisms. In fact, theoretically, this would seem to me to be a disaster, invoking the worst kind of constructionism. Linguists have a habit of theoretically reifying surface data in their generative procedures. This leads to multiplication of G operations that have similar effects, which requires enriching the structure of FL/UG. This is a habit to be resisted, IMO. In fact, as a working hypothesis, I believe that we should standardly assume that FL can only do things in one way. There are never two roads to Rome! Henry’s paper shows how productive this kind of assumption can be empirically.
Third, and this IMO is the paper’s most interesting feature, it proposes a very reasonable view of one rich source of variation. Henry’s paper notes that we can find Qs stranded in anyphase edge (and base position) when we take the unionof all the dialects. No singledialect appears to allow Qs to surface in every position. Thus, it might seem as if each dialect has a different Q float mechanism. And, of course, in one sense this is correct. Each G must have somedifference or there would be no dialectal differences. However, as Henry’s paper argues, we can see this another way. The data points to the conclusion that FL/UG actually permits stranding in anyposition but specific LADs acquire Gs with further restrictions. In other words, FL/UG provides an envelope of possibilities that particular Gs further restrict. How? Via learning from the input. The paper makes the plausible point that PLD could fix the specific landing spots allowing the dialect specific G to use the FL/UG provided options as templates for where Qs could appear. This seems to me like a very reasonable idea and allows us to use the full range of variation as a window into the properties of FL/UG.
Two points: First, I have no idea how robust the Q float data are in the PLD and whether there is enough there to fix the various dialects.However, Henry’s speculation can be tested. We are talking about data that should be easy to spot in a CHILDES data base for Irish English (if there is one). One nice feature of this data: it will all fall into the domain of 0+learning (discussed here) and so be the right rain size to be acquirable via PLD.
Second, the idea that Henry’s paper illustrates with Q float is one that others (e.g. Idsardi and Lidz and yours truly) have suggested for other syntactic phenomena.We know that I-Merge generates copies in many places and which copy is pronounced should have an impact on surface order given standard linearization procedures. We can put these things together in Henryish fashion and note that what FL/UG provides via Merge is an envelope of possibilities that PLD then winnows out to provide some basic word order templates. On this view, FL/UG provides representations for the class of possible dependencies and PLD provides evidence for selecting among these possibilities wrt linearization. If this is correct, then specificlinearizations in specific Gs are not going to reflect much on the structure of FL/UG though the full range of typological options attested might well do so. At any rate, Henry provides a nice case study of the logic that Idsardi and Lidz were proposing more generally.
Enough said. Like I said, Henry’s paper is interesting and very well written and reasonably compact. Wish I had written it.
In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the range of variation might be more idiolectal than dialectal, but I really do not know enough to ground this suspicion.
Eric Raimy and Lidz have suggested something like this for phonological phenomena as well. They argue that phonological structures are graphs, not strings, and so linearization is as much an issue in phonology as it is in syntax. If you haven’t read this stuff, you should take a look. It’s quite cool.