Discourse-linked interrogative phrase

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A discourse-linked (or d-linked) interrogative phrase is an interrogative phrase like which man that implies the existence of a context set of familiar entities of the type denoted by the nominal (e.g., a set of already familiar men) (Pesetsky 1987, Enç 1991). They contrast with non-discourse linked interrogative pronouns such as who, which carry no necessary implication about familiar discourse entities.


The distinction between discourse-linked and non-discourse-linked interrogative phrases has been shown to be relevant for syntax in some cases. As Pesetsky (1987) noted, discourse-linked phrases can violate superiority:

(2) a. Mary asked [who[e read what]]? 
    b. *Mary asked [what[who read e]]?

(3) a. Mary asked which man [e read which book]? 
    b. Mary asked which book [which man read e]? 


  • Enç, M. (1991). The semantics of specificity. Linguistic Inquiry, 22, 1–26.
  • Pesetsky, D. (1987). Wh-in-Situ: Movement and unselective binding. In: E. Reuland & A. ter Meulen (Eds.), The representation of (in)definitess(98–129). Cambridge:MIT Press.