- Sluicing: Cross-linguistic perspectives ed. by Jason Merchant and Andrew Simpson
The back cover blurb of Sluicing: Cross-linguistic perspectives presents the book primarily as a collection of articles about the properties of sluicing in a variety of languages (specifically, English, Dutch, Frisian, Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, Turkish, Malagasy, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, and Bangla). I do not provide a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, given that the editors’ introduction (Ch. 1) already contains an excellent one and Oxford University Press has graciously decided to offer this one chapter as a free download from the book’s website (http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199645763.do). Suffice it to say that all of the chapters are very competent pieces of research, combining new or little-known data with detailed technical analyses. If they had not been compiled into this book, the chapters could have easily found their way into the pages of the top journals in the field.
What I want to do here instead is to take a step back from the individual chapters, so as to gain a better perspective on the broader line of research that this book represents. In this respect, it is fortunate that the editors have decided to reprint John R. Ross’s seminal 1969 article ‘Guess who?’ as Ch. 2, so that it functions as a prologue of sorts to the rest of the chapters. Ross’s central insight is that a sluiced clause has the same underlying syntax as a wh-question; it is just that a large part of it remains unpronounced. The rest of the chapters take Ross’s insight seriously, to the extent that the following is an accurate one-sentence summary of the main theoretical theme of the book.
1. The best analysis of sluicing is the one in which the syntax of sluicing deviates the least from the syntax of wh-questions.
Note that this is neither trivial nor obvious. Your local sluicing expert will be quick to point out that there are a number of analyses that, for a variety of reasons, choose not to adhere to 1. For example, Chung and colleagues (1995) argue that the sluicing site contains an impoverished syntactic structure, and Culicover and Jackendoff (2005) argue that it contains no structure at all, the correct reading of the sluiced clause arising from semantic and/or pragmatic mechanisms (e.g. LF-copying in Chung et al.). Similarly, there are analyses where sluiced clauses, while having the same syntactic structure as wh-questions, are subject to fewer restrictions: for example, Richards (2001) claims that English exceptionally allows multiple overt wh-fronting under sluicing, and Almeida and Yoshida (2007) claim that Brazilian Portuguese, a non-P-stranding language, exceptionally allows P-stranding under sluicing. There are consequences, however, to not adopting 1 as your working hypothesis. If 1 is true, we expect that, for any language we examine, the whole range of syntactic and semantic properties of wh-questions will be present in sluiced clauses, too. In contrast, there is no reason to expect such a consistent correlation if 1 is not the correct working hypothesis. Obviously, this is a question that has to be resolved empirically—in fact, as the chapters in this book collectively do, by examining both sluicing and wh-questions in a variety of languages and determining whether adopting 1 leads to interesting insights.
In practice, this task is more complicated than I have made it sound, partly because individual languages exhibit a range of idiosyncrasies in the way they construct wh-questions. This requires the authors to devote a sizeable portion of each chapter to mapping out the syntax of wh-questions [End Page 653] (and different subtypes thereof) in the corresponding language in detail; otherwise, there would be no reliable baseline against which to compare sluiced clauses. Consequently, readers can expect to end up learning as much about wh-questions as they do about sluicing. In other words, one can add the slogan in 2 as a corollary to the thesis in 1.