Partial wh-movement in Polish


Maja Lubanska (Wroclaw)


Natural languages employ various strategies to form questions. A number of languages form wh-questions, like those in (1), in which one or more wh-phrases located in an embedded clause have scope in a higher clause. The scope is indicated by the presence in the higher clause of a distinct wh-word, which typically takes the form of ‘what’ in a language, and appears to have no other semantic function. Hence the term partial wh-movement, since the meaningful wh-phrase moves at surface structure only to an intermediate [-wh] position on its way to the [Spec, CP] of the matrix clause.


(1) a. Wasi   glaubst du [CP wanni sie ti gekommen ist]?

         [+wh] think    you     when  she   come        is

          ‘When do you think that she came?’                                                        (Müller 1997)

      b. Jaki     myslisz kogoi  Janek kocha ti?

          [+wh] think     whom Janek loves

         ‘Who do you think that John loves?’


The conflicting evidence gained by looking at wh-scope marking constructions in different languages contributes to the ongoing discussion (see for instance Lutz, Müller, and von Stechow 2000), which does not seem to be on the way to work out a unified approach for all languages. The main objective of my presentation is to enter this discussion with the aim of advocating the focus movement analysis of wh-scope marking questions in Polish. In the Minimalist Program (Chomsky 1995), movement is driven by the need to check features. A crucial question concerning the fronting of wh-phrases is what forces their movement. According to the results of recent research (Sabel 1998, 2000), these are [+wh] and [+focus] features that are involved in wh-movement in all languages. This idea provides the basis for the analysis which straightforwardly accounts for the fact that some languages allow for partial wh-movement, whereas others do not. The parametric property responsible for this difference is the value of two features which trigger the movement – the [+wh]- and [+focus]-feature.  The differences between languages with respect to wh-parameter can be analysed as resulting from the difference in the strength of the features of the functional heads that trigger wh-movement. Since only a strong [+focus]-feature may trigger the movement to a [-wh]-position, partial wh-movement, as Sabel (1998) observes, may serve as a diagnostic: if a language allows for partial wh-movement, then overt wh-movement is triggered by [+focus]-feature. In the case when a language does not allow for partial wh-movement, wh-movement is triggered by [+wh]-feature. The analysis in terms of feature values correctly excludes partial wh-movement in English, in which wh-movement results from the need to check a strong [+wh], not [+focus]-feature.


In accordance with Sabel’s (1998, 2000) hypothesis, I will argue that in Polish the movement in the construction under discussion is triggered exclusively by the strong focus feature. The advocated analysis may clear up the wh-movement facts like the recognition of partial wh-movement and the lack of successive cyclic wh-movement in the syntax of Polish. A feasible explanation may be given if we assume that the traditional wh-movement is not attested in partial wh-movement construction in Polish.




Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.


Lutz, Uli, Gereon Müller, and Arnim von Stechow. 2000. Wh-Scope Marking. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.


Müller, Gereon. 1997. ‘Partial Wh-movement and Optimality Theory’. The  Linguistic Review 14: 249-306.


Sabel, Joachim. 1998. Principles and Parameters of Wh-Movement. Habilitationsschrift, University of Frankfurt/Main.


Sabel, Joachim. 2000. ‘Partial Wh-Movement and the Typology of Wh-Questions’. In: Uli Lutz, Gereon Müller, and Arnim von Stechow (eds.). Wh-Scope Marking. 409-446. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.


Stepanov, Arthur. 2000. ‘Wh-Scope Marking in Slavic’. Studia Linguistica 54:  1-40. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. 


Willim, Ewa. 1989. On Word Order: A Government-Binding Study of English and Polish. Kraków: Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego. Prace Językoznawcze. Zeszyt 100.