Investigating variation in island effects: A case study of Norwegian wh-extraction

Dave Kush, Terje Lohndal, Jon Sprouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present a series of large-scale formal acceptability judgment studies that explored Norwegian island phenomena in order to follow up on previous observations that speakers of Mainland Scandinavian languages like Norwegian accept violations of certain island constraints that are unacceptable in most languages cross-linguistically. We tested the acceptability of wh-extraction from five island types: whether-, complex NP, subject, adjunct, and relative clause (RC) islands. We found clear evidence of subject and adjunct island effects on wh-extraction. We failed to find evidence that Norwegians accept wh-extraction out of complex NPs and RCs. Our participants judged wh-extraction from complex NPs and RCs to be just as unacceptable as subject and adjunct island violations. The pattern of effects in Norwegian paralleled island effects that recent experimental work has documented in other languages like English and Italian (Sprouse et al. 2012, 2016). Norwegian judgments consistently differed from prior findings for one island type: whether-islands. Our results reveal that Norwegians exhibit significant inter-individual variation in their sensitivity to whether-island effects, with many participants exhibiting no sensitivity to whether-island violations whatsoever. We discuss the implications of our findings for universalist approaches to island constraints. We also suggest ways of reconciling our results with previous observations, and offer a systematic experimental framework in which future research can investigate factors that govern apparent island insensitivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-779
Number of pages37
JournalNatural Language and Linguistic Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


  • Cross-linguistic variation
  • Experimental syntax
  • Island effects
  • Norwegian
  • Scandinavian
  • wh-movement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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