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"So easy to look at, so hard to define”: tough movement in the minimalist framework

Hicks, Glyn (2003) "So easy to look at, so hard to define”: tough movement in the minimalist framework Department of Language and Linguistic Science, Masters Thesis , 90pp.

Record type: Thesis (Masters)


This dissertation addresses the syntactic analysis of the (English) tough construction (TC), a syntactic construction in which (typically) adjectival predicates in the semantic class of 'tough' and 'easy' may participate:
(i) John is tough/easy/impossible/a cinch to please e
In this construction, the matrix subject is coreferent with the understood (nonovert) object of the embedded infinitival, as the non-TC paraphrase in (ii) shows:
(ii) It is tough/easy/impossible/a cinch to please John
A theoretically and empirically adequate analysis of such constructions has long proved elusive in generative syntactic frameworks: on the one hand due to apparent incompatibility with the theoretical principles of Case-theory, theta-theory, and movement constraints, on the other due to a range of largely contradictory empirical facts suggesting that TCs involve both NP-movement (‘A-movement’) and wh-movement (‘A-bar-movement’). The very fact that within previous Principles and Parameters models TCs have proved “in principle unexplainable” (Holmberg, 2001:839) appears detrimental to the credibility of such syntactic frameworks. I attempt to fill this previously conspicuous ‘gap’ in the empirical adequacy of Principles and Parameters syntax, arguing that recent revisions to the minimalist framework (particularly Chomsky 2000; 2001a) should inspire a rethinking of TCs, thus lending further support to the current minimalist framework and the manner in which core theoretical principles are reworked therein.
Chapter 2 provides a range of evidence to support the claim that the lexical argument structure of 'tough'-class predicates is identical in both TC and non-TC configurations. Chapter 3 briefly introduces crucial additions to the recent minimalist framework concerning agreement, movement and feature-checking. Chapter 4 details the various problems encountered by the most common analyses of TCs within generative syntax, and the reasons why each is incompatible with a specific set of basic theoretical assumptions. Drawing on this, chapter 5 outlines an analysis of TCs consistent with these assumptions as stated in the current framework, based on an innovative approach to the syntax of null wh-operators. Chapter 6 explores some consequences of extending this analysis to provide an account for a set of constructions apparently related to TCs.

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Published date: September 2003
Additional Information: The core of this MA dissertation is due to be published in shortened form in 'Linguistic Inquiry', Autumn 2009. The analysis is modified slightly in that version (available at, though more detail is provided in this dissertation
Keywords: tough constructions, minimalism, null operators, movement


Local EPrints ID: 65390
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Date deposited: 27 Feb 2009
Last modified: 07 Aug 2017 13:46

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Author: Glyn Hicks
Thesis advisor: Bernadette Plunkett

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