GenWH 2018: The Geneva WH-orkshop on Optional Insituness


Ever since Chomsky (1977), wh-movement (and the lack thereof) in interrogative sentences has animated much debate among theoretical linguists. The fact that some languages force the wh-element to move to a fronted position – such as English, ‘Who did you see’ – while others need the very same element to stay in situ – such as Chinese, ‘Hufei mai-le shenme’ (‘Hufei bought what’) – is a very well known puzzle that is still theoretically relevant today. Whereas, on the whole, the mechanisms that lie behind overt wh-movement to a fronted position in the clause are quite well understood, no unified explanation for wh-in-situ has been provided in the literature. For this reason, “insituness” has become a privileged research subject for linguists in different fields (syntax, semantics and phonology). Historically, the “ex situin situ alternation” was treated as a purely syntactic phenomenon, whereas in the last two decades some very different types of approach have been proposed to account for wh-in-situ (Baunaz, 2016; Mathieu, 2004, 2016; Richards, 2010, 2016), clearly acknowledging that it is crucial to take into serious consideration what is happening at the interfaces between the syntactic, semantic and phonological components of grammar. “Optional” insituness, at work in languages like spoken French (Cheng & Rooryck, 2000; Shlonsky, 2012; Baunaz, 2016) several North Italian Dialects (Munaro et al., 2001; Poletto & Pollock, 2004) and Spanish (Etxepare, 2003, Etxepare & Uribe-Etxebarria, 2005) is even more obscure. In fact, French and other languages of the sort exhibit both the Chinese and the English patterns: a wh-element may move to a fronted position, but it may also appear sentence-internally, “in situ” (‘Quand as-tu mangé ?’ vs ‘Tu as mangé quand ?’, ‘When did you eat?’). Optionality constitutes a problem in any theoretical account, and it is even more difficult to be accounted for when coupled with a syntactic phenomenon that is already cryptic per se. Many scholars have tried to explain optional insituness, but no account has provided an explanation that is both theoretically satisfying and cross-linguistically valid yet.

The Geneva WH-orkshop on Optional Insituness aims at bringing together academics from all around the world, thus creating a privileged discussion space on the subject of Optional Insituness.

Selected references

  • Baunaz, Lena. 2016. French quantifiers “in questions”: Interface strategies. Acta Linguistica Hungarica 63 (2). 125–168.
  • Bocci, G. 2013. The syntax-prosody interface. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Cheng, L.L.-S. & J. Rooryck. 2000. Licensing wh-in-situ. Syntax 3. 1–18.
  • Chomsky, N. 1977. On wh movement. In Culicover et al. (eds.), Formal syntax, 71–132. Dordrecht: Reidel.
  • Déprez, V., K. Syrett & S. Kawahara. 2012. Interfacing information and prosody. In Franco et al. (eds.), Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory: Selected papers from “Going Romance” 2010, 135–154. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Déprez, V., K. Syrett & S. Kawahara. 2013. The interaction of syntax, prosody, and discourse in licensing French wh-in-situ questions. Lingua 124. 4–19.
  • Etxepare, R. 2003. Focalisation and wh-movement in Basque. In Hualde et al. (eds.), A grammar of Basque, 459-515. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Etxepare, R. & Uribe-Etxebarria, M. 2005. Wh-phrases in situ in Spanish: Scope and locality. Recherches Linguistiques de Vincennes (RLV) 33. 9–34.
  • Mathieu, É. 2004. The mapping of form and interpretation: The case of optional wh-movement in French. Lingua 114. 1090–1132.
  • Mathieu, É. 2016. The wh parameter and radical externalization. In Eguren et al. (eds.), Formal grammar and syntactic variation: Rethinking Parameters, 252-290. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Munaro, N. Poletto, C. & Pollock, J-Y. 2001. Eppur si muove: On comparing French and Bellunese wh-movement. Linguistics Variation Yearbook I. 147–180.
  • Poletto, C. & J.-Y. Pollock. 2004. On the Left Periphery of some romance wh-questions. In Rizzi (ed.), The structure of CP and IP, The cartography of syntactic structures, 2, 251–296. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Richards, N. 2010. Uttering trees. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Richards, N. 2016. Contiguity theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Sabel, J. 2000. Partial wh-movement and the typology of wh-questions. In Lutz et al. (eds.), Wh-scope marking, 409–446. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Shlonsky, U. 2012. Notes on wh in situ in French. In Laura Brugè et al. (eds.), Functional heads, The cartography of syntactic structures, 7, 242–252. New York: Oxford University Press.


Important Dates: 

  • November 30th, 2017: deadline for submitting an abstract.
  • December 10th, 2017: notification of acceptance.
  • January 16-18, 2018: Conference.


Bâtiment des Bastions, University of Geneva, Rue De-Candolle 5, 1211 Genève, Switzerland.

Abstract submission:

Abstracts should be submitted via EasyChair ( before November 30th 2017.

Abstracts should be no longer than 1 page, references and figures included, 1 inch margin at least, Times New Roman 12pt, single spaced.

16 janvier 2018