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 situ–in 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.
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