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Linguistic Inquiry

Fall 2000, Vol. 31, No. 4, Pages 703-713
(doi: 10.1162/002438900554523)
© 2000 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Wh-Subjects in English and the Vacuous Movement Hypothesis
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In this squib I consider the Vacuous Movement Hypothesis (henceforth VMH), the notion that in English local overt wh-movement takes place except for subjects (George 1980, Chomsky 1986). There is considerable evidence that a wh-subject does not move locally to [Spec, CP] in English. However, the notion that overt wh-movement in English involves feature licensing/clausal typing with C (Rizzi 1996, Cheng 1991) implies that even in the case of wh-subjects, movement to the domain of C must still occur. Furthermore, wh-islands involving a wh-subject in the embedded clause have raised problems for the VMH under the classical treatment of wh-islands that attributes them to Subjacency. I propose to reconcile the evidence for and against the VMH via a simplification of the feature-checking system advanced in Chomsky 1995 and a treatment of overt movement that separates a feature chain (CHFF) from a category chain (CHCAT). The proposal resolves the discrepancies observed with English wh-subjects in a conceptually desirable way.