December 18, 2006

A Sentence

What plan for Iraq did one top expert warn was doomed to likely failure when he advised the ISG?

If I understood why that sentence is or is not grammatical, I'd understand more linguistics than I do. Can whs move like that?

Posted by Matt Weiner at December 18, 2006 08:50 PM

Sounds okay to me. Wh-movement is generally grammatical; it's the few situations where it isn't that syntacticians are always talking about.

Posted by: teofilo at December 18, 2006 11:14 PM

Yeah, those few situations are what I don't understand (I tried to read Chomsky's Barriers and had no luck). This sentence seems so convoluted that I'm unclear about it, but I guess it's OK.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at December 19, 2006 08:52 AM

That sentence is just parallel to:

What did you say was your favorite flavor of ice cream?

At least, the wh- movement is coming out of the same sort of place, but the phrases around it are larger. There's apparently some linguists that argue that certain constraints really are quantitative, so that things get degrees of grammaticality. I think this is based on work from phonology initially though.

The place that seems to be ungrammatical is moving both the subject and object of the same sentence:

*That's the book that I don't know what is called.
?That's the book that I don't know what it's called.

Posted by: Kenny Easwaran at December 19, 2006 01:31 PM

What few situations don't you understand? Just kidding.
An editor's view, instinctual, rather than a linguist's view:
I would have edited it to "What plan was likely doomed to fail, according to a top expert's warning to the ISG?" or "One top expert warned the ISG that a certain plan was doomed to fail. Which [or "what"] plan?"
Wikipedia has a pretty thorough discussion of wh- movement (or "mouvement q" in French), which I'd never heard of before.
(What had she never heard of according to her own report before?)

Posted by: Matt's mom at December 19, 2006 01:41 PM

I tried to link to that wikipedia entry last night, but was foiled by the spam filter.

Posted by: teofilo at December 19, 2006 03:24 PM

Here's yer link. I think what gets me is the length of the moved wh-phrase, and the additional wh-phrase; the sentence seems grammatical but unnecessarily convoluted.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at December 19, 2006 08:39 PM

Haven't any of you people ever watched Jeopardy?

Posted by: Ben at December 21, 2006 01:40 AM