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Germanic It-Clefts: Structural Variation and Semantic Uniformity


The subject matter of this dissertation is the it-cleft construction, exemplified in (1)

1. It was Mary who drank all the vodka.

It-clefts have attracted the long-standing interest of researchers in a number of linguistic subfields for the reason that this is a construction within which converge a variety of phenomena touching on issues central to linguistic theory. This work addresses several of these issues, including the construction of copular sentences, the properties of the left periphery and their relevance to the grammar of wh -movement, the interaction of syntax, semantics, and information structure, and the linguistic sources of connectivity and reconstruction effects.

The core predicational structure of the it-cleft is identified as a small clause containing an atypical predicate - a CP λ-abstract - and this has repercussions in several domains. Among these is the availability of two derivational options: the clefted constituent may be first merged either within or above the subordinate clause. Each derivation places a set of demands on the syntactic system and therefore, although both of these derivations are attested in the Germanic languages, some languages are restricted to one or the other option due to language-specific syntactic constraints.

This cross-linguistic variation in the structure of it-clefts provides a means of isolating morphosyntactic connectivity from interpretive reconstruction effects. A comparison of German it-clefts with the structurally distinct it-clefts of Norwegian reveals that, contrary to expectation, variation in structure is not reflected in variation for the availability of reconstruction effects. On the basis of these data, the analysis argues that it-clefts having distinct syntactic structures are semantically identical at the point of interpretation. Differences in structure, however, will require that each language make use of distinct syntactic and semantic operations in reaching this ultimate semantic uniformity.

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