Date of Award

Spring 5-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Robert Frank

Second Advisor

Raffaella Zanuttini


Bantu languages, which are spoken throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, permit wh- questions to be constructed in multiple ways, including wh-in-situ, full wh-movement, and partial wh-movement. Shona, a Bantu language spoken by about 13 million people in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, allows all three of these types. In this dissertation, I conduct the first in-depth examination of Shona wh-questions, drawing on fifty hours of elicitation with a native speaker consultant to explore the derivational relationships among these strategies. Wh-in-situ questions have received a wide variety of treatments in the syntactic lit- erature, ranging from covert or disguised movement to postsyntactic binding of the wh- phrase by a silent question operator. In Bantu languages, wh-in-situ questions are often taken to be derived via a non-movement relation (e.g., Carstens 2005 for Kilega, Diercks 2010 for Lubukusu, Muriungi 2003 for Kîîtharaka, Sabel 2000 for Kikuyu and Duala, Sabel & Zeller 2006 for Zulu, Schneider-Zioga 2007 for Kinande), but alternatives have rarely been considered. I demonstrate how movement-based analyses that have been proposed for wh-in-situ in non-Bantu languages make the wrong predictions for Shona wh-in-situ, which lacks word order permutation, extraction marking, island effects, and intervention effects. These properties provide support for the traditional Bantuist view that the rela- tion between the pronunciation site of an in-situ wh-phrase and its scopal position in the left periphery is not movement; I claim that in Shona it is unselective binding. Many Bantu languages, including Shona, prohibit wh-phrases from appearing in the canonical preverbal subject position. Wasike (2007) demonstrates that this restriction applies to topicalized non-subjects as well as preverbal subjects. I replicate these results for Shona and argue that they cast doubt on Sabel & Zeller’s (2006) attempt to characterize the ban with an appeal to improper movement. I argue instead that restrictions on the distribution of wh-in-situ in Bantu are tied to restrictions on the domain for focus licens- ing. This claim is further bolstered by an examination of crosslinguistic variation within Bantu with respect to whether the ban on in-situ preverbal wh-subjects applies in embed- ded clauses. I observe a previously unnoticed generalization: languages that universally ban in-situ preverbal wh-subjects (like Zulu) have immediately after the verb (IAV) focus effects; languages that do allow in-situ preverbal wh-subjects in embedded clauses (like Shona, Lubukusu, and Kîîtharaka) also lack IAV effects. Full wh-movement in Shona gives rise to questions that bear a certain similarity to En- glish wh-questions. However, using a range of diagnostics including extraction marking, island effects, reconstruction effects, and the distribution of temporal modifiers, I argue that what appears to be full wh-movement in Shona actually has a cleft structure: the wh-phrase moves to become the head of a relative clause, which is selected by a copula in the matrix clause. Just as in wh-in-situ, an ex-situ wh-phrase is pronounced lower than its scopal position, and the relation between these two positions is established via unselec- tive binding. Additional evidence for this proposal comes from the sensitivity of partial wh-movement to island boundaries below but not above the pronunciation site of the wh- phrase, a pattern that has been predicted by previous analyses (e.g., Abels 2012a, Sabel 2000, Sabel & Zeller 2006) but for which empirical support has been lacking until now. I therefore unify full and partial wh-movement under a single analysis for cleft-based wh- ex-situ that involves a step of relativization (independently needed for relative clauses) and a step of unselective binding (independently needed for wh-in-situ).

Included in

Syntax Commons