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  • Syntax, semantics, and acquisition of multiple interrogatives: Who wants what? by Lydia Grebenyova
  • Radek Šimík
Lydia Grebenyova. Syntax, semantics, and acquisition of multiple interrogatives: Who wants what? Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. [Linguistics Today, 195.]

1. Introduction

Lydia Grebenyova’s book is an updated and extended version of her University of Maryland dissertation (Grebenyova 2006). Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 5 correspond to chapters 2–5 of her dissertation, respectively, without major discernable updates. Chapters 4 and 6 are new and present further studies closely related to the topic. Chapter 7 is also new but contains only a summary of the book. In addition, the book consists of a table of contents, a list of abbreviations, a preface (mainly containing acknowledgements), an introduction (mainly containing an overview of the book), references, Appendices A, B, and C, which provide the materials for the experiments (experimental items, scripts of stories) reported on in chapters 5 and 6 of the book, and finally an index containing a selection of subjects, languages, and authors.

This review is organized as follows. In section 2 I provide a general evaluation together with a bird’s eye view of the issues discussed in the book. In section 3 I move on to a detailed chapter-by-chapter review. Section 4 is the conclusion.1 [End Page 129]

2. General Overview and Evaluation

The book is quite broad in the range of phenomena it deals with. The following list provides just a selection of the main topics: the structure and interpretation of multiple wh-questions, wh-fronting and contrastive focus fronting, superiority effects, sluicing, different types of islands, left-branch extraction, head movement, and the syntax of the left periphery. Selected issues are then discussed from the perspective of language acquisition.

In chapters 1 and 2 Grebenyova deals with the syntactic and semantic issues that lie at the heart of multiple wh-questions (MQs). In chapter 1 she looks at the problem of superiority in wh-fronting, providing an account of the newly observed matrix-embedded contrast in superiority effects in English: superiority effects are claimed to be stronger in embedded MQs than in matrix MQs. Grebenyova sets up a sophisticated account of this phenomenon, based on the idea that superiority effects are weaker in contexts of T-to-C movement, and provides some convincing cross-linguistic support for her analysis. In chapter 2 Grebenyova deals with the interpretation of MQs. She adopts the compositional framework set up by Hagstrom (1998), who argues that MQs can either denote a set of propositions (in which case they have the single-pair (SP) reading) or a set of questions (in which case they have the pair-list (PL) reading). Based on old and new observations regarding the (un)availability of the SP reading, Grebenyova proposes a number of modifications to Hagstrom’s system. Yet, the issues are complex, and as I try to show below, Grebenyova does not always manage to formulate her proposals in a convincing way.

Another topic prominent in chapters 1 and 2 is the phenomenon of interpretive superiority—the loss of PL readings in contexts of licit superiority violations. The term interpretive superiority was introduced by Bošković (2001), and the relevant observation was first made by Hagstrom (1998) for Japanese and Sinhala. Grebenyova puts forth a novel proposal based on the idea that wh-fronting cannot pied-pipe the Q-morpheme. Yet, the Q-morpheme cannot be stranded either, since that would lead to a type-mismatch between Q and the trace left after wh-movement. It follows from these two restrictions that in contexts of licit superiority violations, the Q-morpheme must attach somewhere else than to the lower wh-phrase (which happens to be the default option [End Page 130] attachment).2 In particular, the Q-morpheme must attach to TP. Such attachment, in turn, is argued to give rise to SP readings only. As I will show below, this analysis is not without problems.

The main strength and value of Grebenyova’s book does not, I believe, dwell in the proposals about the core syntactic and interpretive properties of MQs but rather in the discussion of the MQs in relation...


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