A New Look at Subject Islands: The Phasehood of Definiteness
In this work I discuss the phasal status of Determiner Phrases (DPs) and propose that certain subject-island effects such as subextraction are best understood when interface-related features such as Definiteness/Specificity are taken into consideration. Utilizing Chomsky’s (2008) notion of phases, I claim that subextraction out of subjects is licensed if the relevant DP is not a phase. A DP subject is not a phase if it is indefinite. Building on Jiménez-Fernández (2009), I maintain that subextraction is possible not only in interrogative clauses, but also in other types of A’-movement such as focus fronting. I show that independently of the (post- or pre-verbal) position that DP subjects occupy, subextraction in A’-movement contexts is permitted if the DP subject does not contain the interface-related grammatical feature [+ def]. The phasal characterisation of subject islands is held to be a consequence of an interface effect relating to the Definiteness feature. In other words, island circumvention is crucially connected to interface conditions, not only to syntactic constraints (contrary to Gallego and Uriagereka 2007; Gallego 2011; Müller 2010). Subextraction out of a subject is illustrated with Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Polish, Greek and English data. A three-fold typological division is proposed, in which languages are classified according to the subextraction possibilities and the influence of Definiteness on this type of movement. In addition, a parallelism is established between DP phases and NP phases, which accounts for the strong influence of the [+ def] feature on the phasal characterisation of nominal constructions in languages with and without articles.