Syntax I

A weblog for CAS LX 522

December 4, 2005

HW11: Notes on testing Topicalization

Filed under: Homework notes — Paul Hagstrom @ 2:27 am

The last question on homework 11 asks you to test whether Topicalization is subject to island constraints by constructing some test sentences. Let me just say a couple of words about this to get you on the right path, if you’re not sure exactly what this question is asking for.

First, as background, we have been looking at wh-movement, which is a process by which a wh-word moves from the position where its case is checked to SpecCP. Wh-movement happens because C has a [uwh*] feature, requiring that a phrase with a [wh] feature move into SpecCP. In the process, we’ve discovered that the movement can’t escape certain constituents—the islands. So, wh-movement is impossible to a SpecCP outside when the wh-word is inside an interrogative clause (wh-island), inside a definite DP (CNP island), or inside an adverbial clause (Adjunct island).

The idea of the question on the homework is to consider a different kind of movement operation, topicalization. In a sense, it’s very similar to wh-movement—there’s a feature on C ([utop*]), requiring that a constituent with a [top] feature move into SpecCP. The question is asking you to test to see if movement to SpecCP for the purposes of topicalization is also constrained by the three islands that constrain movement of wh-words to SpecCP in wh-movement.

To do the test, you basically try putting the thing that would be topicalized inside an island, and then try to form the topicalization.

To give an example without giving away the problem, I can show you what you’d do to show that a normal declarative CP is not an island…

First, it’s not an island for wh-movement, which is demonstrated by the following question:

(1) What did John say that Mary bought?

Here, what starts off inside the embedded CP (as the object of bought) and moves up to the main clause SpecCP (and, as we’ve discussed in class, stops off in the intermediate SpecCP on the way). But the point of the question above is that it is possible to move from within a declarative complement clause to a higher SpecCP.

To show the same thing with topicalization, you’d put the element to be topicalized in an embedded declarative clause, and then topicalize it, like:

(2) Cheese, John said Mary bought.

Topicalization usually sounds a little bit better with contrast, so you’d probably want to think of a sentence like that as being followed by a sentence like But wine, John said Mary didn’t buy.

The topicalization sentence is good, from which we can conclude that topicalization (like wh-movement) can escape an embedded declarative clause. An embedded declarative clause is not an island.

For the problem itself, the idea is to come up with sentences like (2), except where the topicalized element originates in a position inside an island. To fully answer the question, it is necessary to judge whether the resulting sentence is good or not, and that task might be a bit more demanding if English isn’t your native language. You could run the sentences by native speakers (again, if you provide a contrast with a second sentence, like I exemplified above, it will sound better) if you aren’t confident, but the main thing in the problem is the construction of the test sentences, regardless of whether you feel comfortable judging their status.

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