Non-Fiction Books:

The Syntax of Silence

Sluicing, Islands, and the Theory of Ellipsis


Paperback / softback

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The Syntax of Silence by Jason Merchant
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Two of the best studied and most intriguing areas in syntax and semantics are ellipsis and wh-movement, and although these areas have generated immense interest individually, their intersection-in elliptical wh-questions known as sluicing-has remained largely neglected. This book fills that gap. It does so on the basis of the most sustained empirical investigation of sluicing ever conducted, drawing on novel data from thirty languages that give rise to a number of surprising and theoretically-challenging generalizations. The author shows that sluicing structures are crucial to answering the fundamental questions about the nature of ellipsis: how ellipsis is resolved, whether there is syntactic structure internal to the ellipsis site, and whether the identity requirement on ellipsis is syntactic or semantic. The author proposes a new and elegant theory of ellipsis based on semantic identity, and shows how this theory overcomes problems encountered by common alternatives based on syntactic isomorphism. He posits that ellipsis sites are syntactically complete, though unpronounced, and provides a novel account of how a semantic theory of ellipsis is compatible with syntactic deletion. The facts of sluicing argue also that our conception of islandhood must be refined in fundamental ways, leading to a pluralistic view of islands, with wh-movement extraction deviancies distributed over different components of the grammar. This work sheds new light on some of the most central and long-standing questions in the study of ellipsis and wh-movement, and has important implications for understanding the relations between syntax and semantics. Jason Merchant writes accessibly for linguists of all schools and persuasions. The issues he addresses will interest theoreticians and typologists, especially syntacticians, semanticists, and those interested in the syntax-semantics interface.

Author Biography

Jason Merchant is Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Chicago, and is the author of many articles on ellipsis and sluicing in particular. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has been a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University and an NWO postdoctoral fellow at the University of Groningen.
Release date NZ
June 1st, 2001
Country of Publication
United Kingdom
17 figures
Oxford University Press
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