Government and Binding Theory/Ā-Movements

Government and Binding Theory
A-Movements Ā-Movements Head Movements

There was a pair we left out just now:

(1a) You will try to steal what?
(1b) What will you try to steal?

There are actually two movements in play. The first is the movement of what to the beginning of sentence, and the second is the inversion of you and will. If you're a visual person, here's what the D- and S-structures look like:

(2a) D-structure of (1b):  —     —  you will try to steal what
(2b) S-structure of (1b): what will you   —  try to steal  —

As you can tell from the distance travelled by will and what, these are two different types of inversion that have to be dealt with separately. We discuss the movement of what in this chapter. It is a form of Ā-movement or Wh-movement.



First, we have to make sure we understand what the wh-elements really are. In English, there are several wh-elements, used in interrogatives and relative clauses:

  • DPs: what, which + noun, who...
  • PPs: at which + noun, by whom + noun...
  • APs: how informed, how silly...

It is important to note that not all of these are arguments. Quite a few of them can actually be adjuncts. Consider the following examples: (3a) Why are you here?
(3b) When did you come to school?
(3c) This isn't the road by which he came.

Movements which bring the preposition along are called Pied Piper movements.

Regardless of whether they are arguments or not, wh-elements all move to the beginning of the clause, a non-argument position. This type of movement is the Ā-movement:


A type of movement whereby any phrase moves to a non-argument position.

We know that these movements are to non-argument positions, but there remains a question: Where exactly are these positions? We've filled up the IP's specifier position with the subject, so it can't be this. Well, remember that above the IP, we still have the CP structure. The head and specifier spots of the CP are open. We can conclude that the wh-element moves to the specifier position. In the next chapter, we will see that the auxiliary moves to the head position of the CP - let's leave that for now. Diagrammatically:


Note on other languages


Note that some languages do not have wh-movements. The existence of wh-movements is parametric. Consider this Cantonese example: (6a) Nei heoi-zo bindou?
(You go-asp. where?)
(6b) *Bindou heoi-zo nei?
(Where go-asp. you?)

Focus and Topic


There is another type of Ā-movement worthy of attention:

(7a) This book, I've read a hundred times already.
(7b) Scarcely had I finished my meal when the phone rang.

Yet it would be problematic to move these to complementiser specifier position as they come after the complementiser:

(8a) I told him that this book, I'd read a hundred times already.
(8b) It's unfortunate that scarcely had I finished my meal when the phone rang.

This gave rise to the Articulated CP Hypothesis.