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Linguistic Inquiry

Winter 2002, Vol. 33, No. 1, Pages 31-61
(doi: 10.1162/002438902317382170)
© 2002 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
From Hell to Polarity: “Aggressively Non-D-Linked” Wh-Phrases as Polarity Items
Article PDF (149.26 KB)
Abstract

Pesetsky's (1987) “aggressively non-D-linked”wh-phrases (like who the hell; hereinafter, wh-the-hell phrases) exhibit a variety of syntactic and semantic peculiarities, including the fact that they cannot occur in situ and do not support nonecho readings when occurring in root multiple questions. While these are familiar from the literature (albeit less than fully understood), our focus will be on a previously unnoted property of wh-the-hell phrases: the fact that their distribution (in single wh-questions) matches that of polarity items (PIs). We lay out the key data supporting this claim, embed the PI nature of wh-the-hell phrases in the theory of polarity developed in Giannakidou 1998, 1999, 2001, and establish the link between the lexical content of these phrases and their PI status by identifying wh-the-hell as a dependent PI. We subsequently exploit the PI status of wh-the-hell to explain the more familiar puzzles mentioned above, showing that these are not peculiarities specific to wh-the-hell but manifestations of the general properties of the class of PIs that wh-the-hell belongs to. The syntactic aspects of the polarity analysis of wh-the-hell are shown to have important consequences for the fundamental properties of wh-movement in English.