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  • Wh-Doubling:Implications for the Syntax of Wh-Movement
  • José Camacho

Although appositive structures have received some attention in the literature (see, e.g., Fabb 1990, Espinal 1991, Lebeaux 1988), appositive questions that involve apparently doubled wh-words (see (1)) have not been systematically analyzed. In Spanish these structures show interesting syntactic and interpretive properties. In particular, although they involve a wh-word, they are interpreted as yes-no questions. Additionally, they involve locality constraints. I will argue that the wh-word in these structures is not a [+wh] operator; structurally, the lower CP is adjoined to the wh-trace, which explains the locality restrictions.

Compare the sentences in (1). Sentence (1a) involves a typical wh-extraction from an embedded object position. However, in (1b), which I will call CP-doubling, the wh-word cannot come from the embedded sentence, since there is an overt deictic element in the argument position it might have come from.


  1. a. ¿Quéi dices que compró ti?

    what say(2SG) that bought(3SG)

    'What are you saying she/he bought?'

  2. b. ¿Qué dices, que comproó eso?

    what say(2SG) that bought(3SG) that

    'What are you saying, that she/he bought that?'

There are two important differences between (1a) and (1b). First, (1a) is a true wh-question; the answer will be a DP interpreted as an object of comprar 'buy'. (1b), on the other hand, is a yes-no question. The other difference is the intonational curve. In (1a) the intonational pattern is that of a regular question: it starts with a high tone, descends to a mid tone around the complementizer que, and descends to a lower tone at the end of the question. (1b), on the other hand, has two separate curves: it starts with a high tone, descends immediately to a low tone at the end of the matrix verb dices, then moves to a mid tone at the complementizer and ends in a high tone. From the intonational point of view, (1b) looks like two separate questions: a wh-question qué dices and a yes-no question que compró eso. Both questions are grammatical [End Page 157] in Spanish, as seen in (2a) and (3a), with possible answers (2b) and (3b), respectively.1


  1. a. ¿Quéi dices ti?

    what say(2SG)

    'What are you saying?'

  2. b. Que compró     eso.

    that bought(3SG) that

    'That she/he bought that.'


  1. a. ¿Compró     eso?

    bought(3SG) that

    'Did she/he really buy that?'

  2. b. Sí.



In (2a) the wh-word is coindexed with a trace that is the object of decir 'say'. Since this verb allows DP or CP complements, an answer like (2b) is possible. However, if we go back to (1b), although two questions seem to be involved, the second question (the yes-no question) is embedded within the first one. In this sense, they are not two independent CPs.

In addition to sentences like (1b), there are cases like (4), with the same intonational properties, where the doubled element is a DP, not a CP. I will call these cases DP-doubling. The answer to these is also yes or no.2

(4) ¿Qué compraste,     un libro? (answer = 'yes'/'no')

what bought(PAST.2SG) a book

'What did you buy, a book?'

Examples like (1b) and (4) raise the question, where does the wh-word come from? The obvious answer is that the structure of (1b) involves a wh-word that moves from the complement of the matrix verb and that the second question is therefore a separate CP, as in (5). [End Page 158]

(5) [CP quéi dices ti] [CP que compraste un libro]

However, these examples show locality effects, as I will argue shortly. If this is correct, there is a relationship between the wh-word and a position inside the second CP that cannot be accounted for using the representation in (5). In the following section I will present such evidence.

1 Wh-Doubling and Islands

Wh-doubling questions display locality effects, as seen in (6)-(7). (6a) illustrates that DP-doubling is ungrammatical in the context of a...


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