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LS20. Interrogatives – pronoun (1)

William Hartnell - Doctor WhoCompared with those discussed in LS19, interrogatives with who or what are much more puzzling.  The following analyses concentrate on the pronoun who, which can stand for any of AGENT, THEME or GOAL because the sentences feature the same players as before.  Also this basic form is predominant: whom, with or without a preposition in front, has largely disappeared from current English. The analyses are more realistic also because who now provides no clue about thematic role – the same as would apply with what.

Twenty questions

Asking the identity of AGENT, THEME or GOAL needs who__is early in the sentence.  Asking the identity of GOAL could use to who(m), but more likely is who with to stranded at sentence-end: Who is Nero giving Olivia to?  Similarly, AGENT in a passive construction: Who is Olivia given to Poppaea by?

At is, who can stand for any of the players.  With NG’s one-pass/left-to-right processing, the role of WHO? can change as more words are encountered.  The following charts show the possibilities.

Sentences that start Who is giving…? are the easiest because the only possibility is that who refers to AGENT.

Who is given…? is more tricky because who can refer to THEME or GOAL.  Note that stranded prepositions shown here in capitals attach to who.  These are assumed to be phonologically distinctive.

With Who is (noun) giving…? the noun must be AGENT but who can refer to THEME or GOAL.

Most complicated is Who is (noun) given…? where who can be AGENT or THEME or GOAL.

The following analyses follow the sequence of sentence numbers shown in the charts.  This is not totally satisfactory because the same junctions can pop up in several different places.  I’ve taken some short cuts and hope the balance between clarity and tedium is about right.

Who is giving…

Every sentence thus beginning has who? as agent irrespective of how the sentence continues.

(61) Who is giving?

A following bare noun is spread across THEME and GOAL as seen in LS14.  If nothing follows the noun, activation is consolidated on THEME.

(62) Who is giving Olivia?

Two bare nouns following the main verb cause the second to displace the first, as seen in LS15.

(63) Who is giving Poppaea Olivia?

Consolidation of OLIVIA on to THEME also occurs if a to phrase follows.

(64) Who is giving Olivia to Poppaea?

(65) Who is giving to Poppaea?

Sentence (65) straightforwardly delivers GIVE / GOAL / POPPAEA.  If Olivia then completed the sentence, it would additionally deliver GIVE / THEME / OLIVIA.

Who is given…?

In these sentences, WHO? can be THEME or GOAL.  The analyses are similar to those for passive declaratives, except for the clause-type (still not being shown).

(66) Who is given?

(67) Who is given Olivia?

(68) Who is given Olivia by Nero?

(69) Who is given to?

In (69) the proposition created by given__TO brings more than enough activation to deliver GIVE / GOAL / WHO?.  The GIVE / THEME proposition consequently loses its SIC concept.  The implication is that a proposition with an incomplete set of concepts doesn’t cause ungrammaticality at sentence-end.  Up to now I may have implied that ungrammaticality can be caused by a proposition left with either too few concepts or too little activation.  Perhaps it is caused only by an M concept from the sentence not finding its way into a delivered proposition.

(70) Who is given to by Nero?

The analysis for (70) should be obvious from (69) and (68).

(71) Who is given to Poppaea?

(72) Who is given to Poppaea by Nero?

The analysis for (72) should be obvious from (71) and (68).

(73) Who is given by Nero?

The analysis for (73) should be obvious from (66) and (68).

The rest

This piece is already far too long so discussion of Who is X giving? and Who is X given? and their various continuations must wait.

Mr Nice-Guy