Staff Member Projects

Language Cheng-understanding questionsUnderstanding questions

Lisa Lai-Shen Cheng

(together with Jenny Doetjes)

[funded by NWO]

In English, an interrogative phrase (or wh-phrase) has to be fronted in order to form a question (What did he ask?). In other languages, the wh-phrase remains 'in situ', that is, in its original position (cf. French Il a demandé quoi? lit. 'He asked what?', meaning 'What did he ask?').

Non-fronted questions have been addressed in the literature from various angles, but no consensus has been reached on their status, nor on the question why in some languages non-fronting is optional while in others it is the only possibility. This project aims at answering these questions.


This project proposes an integrated and comparative study on the syntactic, semantic, prosodic and processing aspects of non-fronted wh-questions. We focus on Mandarin and French, because these two languages feature two different types of in-situ wh-questions, as well as a fronted option. Though the basic syntactic and semantic properties of wh-questions in these languages are relatively well studied, there is no consensus on certain crucial data. Furthermore, the prosodic and processing aspects will help us understand the essence of the differences between fronted and non-fronted wh-questions.