New project: COMP-trace effects: A comparative and psycholinguistic approach

I am very happy to announce that I will be starting to work on my DFG-funded project on COMP-trace effects this October. The COMP-trace effect refers to the fact that in English, a complementizer (such as that) cannot be followed directly by an empty subject position (trace). This is typically the case in so-called long-distance wh-questions, where a subject question phrase is spelled out in the matrix clause but is interpreted in the embedded clause:

1. *Who do you think that __ saw him?

This constraint is now believed to be part of a much more universal restriction regarding the displacement of subject from embedded cluases. Curiously, however, in German and Dutch, sentences as in (1) are not impossible:

2. Wer meinst du, dass ihn sah?

3. Wie denk je dat hem zag?

Nonetheless, there are indications that the sentences in (2) and (3) have a degraded status in these languages as well but that the strength of the COMP-trace effect is dependent on functional and processing related factors. In my project, I take a psycholinguistic and comparative approach in investigating the COMP-trace effect, which eventually should lead to a better understanding and explanation of the nature of this constraint.

The project will be carried out in cooperation with researchers at the Carl von Osseitzky Universität (Esther Ruigendijk and Cornelia Hamann) as well as international partners (Jack Hoeksema from the University of Groningen, Hilda Koopman from UCLA, Sam Featherston from The University of Tübingen and Luigi Rizzi from the University of Siena and Geneva.