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NG22. Interrogatives – pronoun (2)

Patrick TroughtonWe continue the NG analysis of WHO-interrogatives by discussing actives with a pre-verb noun.


This sort of sentence can finish before the main verb.  The treatment of the two junctions in (74) must be valid whether or not the sentence continues with giving.

The two incomplete propositions created are familiar from earlier analyses.  With no continuation they must combine into something deliverable.

What is shown here is similar to the proposal for (58) in LS19.  That sentence was not tabulated but IDENTITY would have been appropriate as the REL concept. That seems appropriate here too as the question could be paraphrased What identifies Nero?

(74) Who is Nero?

Sentence (75) starts with the same two junctions and then has is__giving, also familiar from earlier work.  The cognitive outcome is known.  So we only need to work out how the propositions combine. What is proposed applies to all of sentences (75) to (79).

(75) Who is Nero giving?

This has no surprises.  In occupying the SIC roles for GIVE, NERO takes precedence (it was more recently processed) and goes with AGENT, while WHO? is split asymmetrically between THEME and GOAL.  At sentence-end, WHO? is consolidated on to the stronger-activated THEME.


Ending at giving, (75) would have worked if WHO? had immediately formed a fully activated proposition with THEME.  The reason for initially splitting WHO? becomes apparent in (76).  At Poppaea (but before sentence-end is recognised) it’s not clear whether WHO? should be allocated to THEME and POPPAEA to GOAL, or vice versa.

(76) Who is Nero giving Poppaea?

The proposal is that both WHO? and POPPAEA are shared between the GIVE / THEME and GIVE / GOAL propositions.  This is similar to the approach in LS15 for sentences (20) and (15), which had two bare nouns contending for THEME and GOAL.

The analysis for those sentences might imply that resolution is immediate.  But now we can see that options must be kept open in case the sentence continues as in (77).  So if nothing else happens, it must be sentence-end that causes resolution.

An important difference from those earlier sentences is how the arguments are allocated when the propositions are completed.  Activation-decay has been suggested (in LS15 and LS21) as the deciding factor.  That would give the wrong result here: is__Poppaea should be stronger because it is processed after who__is; and that would deliver GIVE / THEME / POPPAEA and GIVE / GOAL / WHO?

A definitive solution of this puzzle can’t be given yet but some more thoughts will be offered when a similar situation is encountered in LS23.


(77) Who is Nero giving Olivia to?

Why does WHO? attach to GOAL and not to THEME?  Previously I’ve shown the propositions created from (verb)__(stranded preposition) with a null concept for SIC.  But the preposition here can only relate to a wh-proform at the front of the sentence: the preposition is phonologically distinctive and so there is no need to wait for following words to confirm that,

Therefore in (77), given__TO can create a proposition including a SIC concept that accommodates WHO? but not OLIVIA.  The C in the rule is one that encompasses a subset of WH-words: who, whom, what, where for TO (and in LS23 who, whom, what, when, how many, how much will be needed for BY).

With GIVE / GOAL / WHO? complete, OLIVIA is displaced.  It consolidates on to GIVE / THEME which no longer has WHO? attached.

There is a surplus of activation for WHO?  For regular preposition phrases the analyses have shown the six units brought by the preposition and none by the noun.  In (77) the pronoun comes first and brings activation, so perhaps the stranded preposition need bring none.


(78) Who is Nero giving to?


(79) Who is Nero giving to Poppaea?

Passive resistance

Passive who-interrogatives with a noun before the main verb are even more tricky. The next piece is dedicated to them.

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