Role of extraction and Head-Filler in questions

A very basic question, it seems, but keep being confused about it.

In a sentence like:

(1) Who left?

Why is it that we generally want not the Head-Subject Rule but rather Subject Extraction + Head Filler?

Is it to get the right semantics? What would happen if said that Head-Subj rule allows QUE-nonemtpy nonhead daughters; in other words, allow a sort of interrogative-head-subj-phrase in addition to the declarative one?

I am asking very generally, not about the Grammar Matrix specifically. (Though it may be that a more general answer does not exist in which case I will be happy with a more specific answer).

Here’s what I am finding in G&S:

  1. The wh-subjects in sentences like Who left? must have a non-emtpy WH (QUE)… because you can say Who the hell left?. I must say I don’t quite understand this argument. I mean, I kind of do, it is the distribution of the word but also this sounds a bit strange given that that is the only argument that I found so far. (Page 237)

  2. Because they must have a non-emtpy WH, they cannot go through HSR. (Page 237)

  3. Because they cannot go through HSR, they must go through HFR. (Page 237)

  4. Also, subjects in HSR must be WH-empty… because we don’t want them in HSR, we want them in HFR (really; page 189).

Could anyone add something to this explanation?..

At this point, it sounds to me like we want to see extraction in the same way other people want to see movement? I may be wrong of course.

Here is a more detailed summary of the section. It is section 6.5.3 in G&S, with references to other sections.

The section is concerned with clauses where a wh-word functions as a subject:

(1) Who visits Merle?

First, we (the G&S readers) should be sure that the Who has a non-empty WH-set (our QUE list). This is because (2) is possible:

(2) Who the hell would eat that?

Now I am turning to section 6.5.1, page 229.

Recall that wh-words can be WH-specified or not, meaning their WH-set can be empty or nonemtpy. In G&S’s analysis, the leftmost wh-constituent will always be WH-specified, and it will be the only WH-specified constituent in the clause. This distinction plays an important role in G&S’s account of the fact that the hell can modify fronted wh-expressions but not the in-situ ones:

(3) *Who visited who the hell?

Back to section 6.5.3.

Assuming Who in (1) is WH-nonemtpy, we observe that (1) cannot be licensed by the HSR. This is because of the WHSP which is the WH Subject Prohibition.

Here’s what section 5.2.2 has to say about WHSP.

Yhe WHSP prevents subjects from being WH-specified. This has the effect that all wh-phrases that appear to be WH-specified subjects are really extracted phrases licensed by the head filler rule.

Back to 6.5.3:

G&S suggest a type for subject-wh-interrogative-clause. This type should, according to their analysis, inherit some key constraints. Here I will just use screenshots:


“Thus, in all subject wh-questions, the subject NP is in fact extracted and the verb heading such construction is slashed”.

I think I am not approaching this reading correctly, like I am trying to reason in the wrong direction or something? What is the premise here, or the motivation, and what is the consequence? Is the premise that wh-subjects must be extracted (and now we are modeling that and concluding that it indeed can be modeled)?

Perhaps what might be implicit in G&S text is the fact that in other languages, wh-words are more clearly extracted, meaning even if the word order is, say, VSO or maybe it is free, we still tend to see wh-phrases as leftmost constituents (much like wh-objects in English). In other words, the leftmost position of non-wh-subjects is a coincidence?

Assuming that, perhaps G&S use the wh… the hell test as an additional motivation kind of thing.

Then, I suppose they define fronted wh-phrase as WH-nonempty, and the rest follows.

What is G&S? A book? A paper?

It’s this book:

Ginzburg and Sag. 2001. Interrogative investigations.

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