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The role of semantic and structural constraints in ellipsis

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Alison Biggs.

One of the two central puzzles in the study of ellipsis is to determine whether there is regular syntactic structure present at the ellipsis site and, if so, what form it takes. The syntax of sluicing, a wh-question where everything but the wh-phrase is elided, (1), is particularly puzzling.

(1) Joe met someone on the train last night. Guess who!

Sluicing is puzzling, since it provides us with ample, convincing evidence that there is syntactic structure present at the ellipsis site. This evidence has given rise to the idea that the hidden syntax at the ellipsis site is structurally isomorphic to its antecedent. But sluicing also provides equally ample and convincing evidence that the structure at the ellipsis site is not in all cases identical to the structure of the antecedent of ellipsis.

I will review some of the central evidence for and against structural isomorphism, paying particular attention to the two rightly most famous properties of sluicing, namely, that (i) sluicing appears to repair island violations and (ii) that the overt wh-phrase must match its correlate in the antecedent sentence in case.

I will argue that the ability of sluicing to repair island violations is only apparent, which strengthens the case for the presence of regular syntactic structure at the ellipsis site but, at the same time, also requires us to allow substantial syntactic mismatches between antecedent and ellipsis site. The threatening paradox is resolved by assuming a dual theory with a semantic component along the lines of Merchant’s eGIVENness and a syntactic component. The syntactic aspect of the analysis demands that the elided structure be a structural alternative to the overt antecedent sentence in the sense of Katzir (2007), Fox and Katzir (2011) and that the overt correlate of the wh-phrase be a structural alternative to the wh-phrase again in the sense of Katzir and Fox and Katzir.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) series.

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