Reverse Island Effects and the Backward Search for a Licensor in Multiple Wh-Questions

Jon Sprouse, Shin Fukuda, Hajime Ono, Robert Kluender

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract. This paper reports a series of formal acceptability-judgment experiments designed to investigate the syntactic properties of a relatively understudied type of wh-dependency: multiple wh-questions in English. By using a factorial definition of island effects made available only by formal experiments, we report an unpredicted pattern of acceptability that suggests the existence of reverse island effects for whether and adjunct islands inside of multiple wh-questions, but not for subject and CNPC islands. We argue that this unpredicted effect can best be analyzed by taking into account the parsing processes that are necessary for real-time comprehension of multiple wh-questions in English. We propose that multiple wh-questions require a backward search for an antecedent that is in many ways similar to the forward search for a gap site that occurs in single wh-questions in English (Frazier & Clifton 1989). We then present additional acceptability-judgment experiments in both English and Japanese to test the predictions of the backward-search analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-203
Number of pages25
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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