P2 Description

This project investigates word-order variation in wh-questions across Romance languages. The topic serves as a window into the articulation of diverse language modules. It taps into fundamental linguistic questions such as to what extent the construction of structure is divorced from interpretation, how to account for optionality, and how pragmatic and discourse-level constraints interact with the construction of syntactic structure. While Old Romance languages are characterized by high stability with respect to word order in wh-questions, in Modern Romance there is a lot of variation. Some Romance languages seem to have suffered important word-order changes in wh-questions by having lost obligatory wh- fronting and subject-verb inversion; other languages only show variation in restricted contexts with special syntactic, semantic and pragmatic characteristics; while others do not seem to allow for variation in questions at all. The project will make use of robust empirical methodologies to systematize and expand available data. The analysis of variation across a series of related languages that display a wide range of options will allow for a controlled analysis of variation that can isolate the contribution of specific syntactic, semantic and pragmatic factors.

The broad aim of the project is to provide analyses that take into account syntactic, semantic and pragmatic aspects (including the role of intonation) to explain the availability of diverse wh- question strategies. The general outlook is that syntactic accounts that do not pay attention to meaning cannot fully explain the observed variation. The desiderata involve spelling out proposals that rely on independently motivated arguments and do away with ad-hoc stipulations and speculations. The working hypothesis is that pragmatics plays an important role and that the different strategies in question-formation serve to signal the role of the utterance in discourse. By invoking a novel multi-disciplinary perspective and robust empirical methodologies, the project will provide novel insights as well as incorporate long-standing generalizations and observations into current theoretical discussions.

The project will allow us to better understand the interaction between syntax, semantics and pragmatics and the division of labor between these modules to bring about meaning and account for distributional constraints.