Intervention Effects and Specificity Effects in Wh-questions

Min Jegal 1 ,
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1Kyungpook National University
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ⓒ Copyright 2017 Language Education Institute, Seoul National University. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Jul 01, 2017 ; Revised: Aug 14, 2017 ; Accepted: Aug 28, 2017

Published Online: Aug 31, 2017


Specificity effects are a widespread phenomenon, both in overt and covert syntax, across all languages. This paper focuses on the cross-linguistic specificity effects found in overt syntax1) and questions why the specificity property of a moved wh-phrase leads to immunity to syntactic constraints involved in “Intervention.” I contend that a tendency for a specific phrase to override intervention effects lies in the inactiveness of its copy in the original position. This argument is supported by a large amount of empirical data: anti-reconstruction effects of specific wh-words and adjunction to outer vP-domain of specific quantifiers. When a wh-phrase is specific, its inactive original copy does not form a chain of movements, which permits the specific phrase to be out of the scope of a potential intervener in a relevant phase domain. This analysis is able to derive all specificity-related sentences that are free from intervention effects, thereby reconciling apparently conflicting examples under existing feature-based analyses such as Rizzi’s (2013) fRM and providing more consistent explanations on specificity effects.

Keywords: Specificity (D-linking); island; superiority; crossover; intervention effect