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Comment clauses and null complement anaphora: Some theoretical implications

Tohru Inoue

Ph.D. Dissertation, 2001


This thesis is concerned with the interpretation of the missing complement in English parenthetical clauses. Based on examination of a wide range of parenthetical data, it offers an analysis for parenthetical sentences, using the semantic interpretation approach supplemented with insights from Speech Act Theory as the theoretical framework. It provides a preliminary classification of parenthetical expressions according to syntactic forms and functions and defines parenthetical clauses as expressing the speaker's comment on the content of the host clause. Previous analyses of sentences containing a parenthetical clause (e.g. This car needs a tune-up, I think) are examined and transformational approaches are found to be empirically inadequate. The key to understanding complicated parenthetical sentences is to establish a semantic interpretation theory that specifies how to link the missing complement to the host clause. A unified account of gap-containing parenthetical clauses and interpretation of their missing complement is presented. The missing complement to a parenthetical predicate corresponds to the core proposition expressed in the host clause. This proposal is capable of accounting for all unresolved problems in previous approaches. Parenthetical predicates are defined as precisely as possible, and it is argued that predicates that occur in parentheticals fall under the category of Hooper's (1975) "assertive predicates." It is further shown that negative parenthetical predicates are a subset of Hooper's weak assertive predicates and neg-raising predicates. The applicability of root transformations in subordinate clauses is explored from a semantic point of view. It is found that Hooper's claim that the assertive feature of the main clause is responsible for syntactic operations in embedded clauses is justified. In support the Assertivity Principle is proposed. This states assertive predicates permit not only embedded root transformations, but also wh-extraction. Finally, whether the principle holds for embedded topicalization and long-distance scrambling in Japanese is examined to see whether or not the semantic constraint is universal. The main findings and proposals for future research are presented. It is suggested that the semantic notion of "assertivity"; opens up new possibilities for embedded root transformations and extraction phenomena, and allows for maximal reduction of previous accounts based only on syntax.

Department of Linguistics University of Wisconsin-Madison

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