A Minimalist Perspective on Head Movement of Verbs and Auxiliaries in English

Term Paper, 2009

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction

2 Verbs
2.1 V-to-T Movement in French
2.2 V-to-T Movement in Present-day English
2.3 Reasons for V-to-T Movement and Affix Hopping

3 Auxiliaries
3.1 Auxiliary Inversion
3.2 Reasons for Auxiliary Inversion

4 Have/Be Raising
4.1 Exceptions of Have and Be Raising
4.2 Accounting for Have/Be Raising

5 Conclusion

6 References


One major field of interest for linguists concerned with the Minimalist Program has been the justification for movement. Bo kovi and Lasnik in their Introduction to ‘Minimalist Syntax’ state that Minimalism insisted on the “last resort” nature of movement in connection with the ideas of economy and reason for movement (Bo kovi & Lasnik 2007: 3). This leads to a series of questions arising when faced with examples of movement across languages. These questions are concerned with the process of movement aiming at a description of movement, i.e. which elements can be moved, where do they go and what happens with other elements. On the other hand one is confronted with the question why do heads move at all and for what reasons.

From a practical point of view everyone who is or has been in contact with children acquiring their first language will have been confronted with utterances where head movement was used ungrammatically and tried to correct this by offering a grammatically correct alternative (1).

1) CHILD: Can its wheels can spin?

ADULT: No, say ‘Can its wheels spin’

(Radford 2004a: 128)

If children then ask why that is so, some of us could get into big trouble. Still if we come up with a reasonable and adequate answer for children at that age, it will be quite unlikely that children pick up the correct syntactic structure and start using it. This unresponsiveness of children to correction has been investigated by various linguists claiming that negative evidence by parental overt corrections has no effect on the children’s development of syntactic ability (Radford 2004a)

Answers given by linguists to account for and describe syntactic movement as in example (1) are not all-inclusive and remain insufficient for some data. Therefore this term paper focuses on head movement of verbs and auxiliaries in English. The second chapter of the term paper gives a brief description of the phenomenon of verb movement, abbreviated with V-to-T movement. This is followed by a discussion of possible reasons to account for verb movement. Chapter three then addresses auxiliary inversion as a special case of head movement and gives similarly as for verb movement, an overview about possibilities to account for movement of auxiliaries. Chapter four presents have and be raising as borderline cases of verb movement and auxiliary inversion. In the end the conclusion discusses shortcomings as well as an outlook on possible solutions to problems in reference to head movement of verbs and auxiliaries.


The theory of Universal Grammar incorporates the concept that humans possess an innate language faculty which enables children to acquire any language as their first language. It therefore follows that there are principles of language which need not to be learned by a child because they are universal to all languages, and on the other hand there are parameters which can differ across languages and need to be set by a child on the basis of linguistic experience (Radford 2004a: 9ff). What does this mean for V-to-T movement, also known as verb raising and verb movement? Certainly one has to consider whether this movement operation can be discovered in all languages or is only limited to few languages. As verb movement is not the only movement operation in languages one has to bear in mind that there is a general head movement operation and V-to-T movement is only a special incident of head movement. Radford argues that head movement can be described as an ‘operation by which an item occupying the head position in a lower phrase is moved into the head position in a higher phrase’ (Radford 2004a: 132). Unfortunately English does not move verbs any longer from V-to-T.

2.1 V-to-T Movement in French

While English has lost the possibility of a finite verb to move from the head position of the verb phrase (VP) to the head position of a finite tense phrase (TP), one language, which still presents V-to-T movement today, is French (2).

2) Je mange souvent des pommes.

I eat often the apples

“I often eat apples.” ( Carnie 2006: 243)

A native speaker of English would not produce an ungrammatical sentence by moving the verb in front of the adverb; somehow this operation is blocked. For a native speaker of French it is perfectly grammatical to move the verb out of the specifier position of the VP into the head T position. This leads to the following syntactic structure in the tree diagram in (3) which causes some trouble because it violates the two constituent structure principles of headness and binarity (Radford 2004a: 126).

According to the Binarity Principle every syntactic structure is binary-branching which is clearly violated by V’ in (3) because it only branches singularly to the determiner phrase (DP) of des pommes. The Headness Principle is violated because every syntactic structure must be a projection of the head word (Radford 2004a: 126). This is not the case for the VP, which has no head constituent V in example (3). Instead of revising these principles one can account for this fact via the copy theory of movement introduced by Chomsky (Radford 2004: 126ff).


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(Carnie 2006: 249/modified by the author)

This would mean for the process of V-to-T movement in the French sentence ‘ Je mange souvent des pommes ’ that the first operation (after the DP des pommes is formed by merging the determiner (D) des with the noun (N) pommes which is left out in (3) due to reasons of space) is a merger operation of the verb mange with the DP of des pommes. Then the intermediate projection V-bar (V’) mange des pommes merges with the adverb (ADV) to form the maximum projection VP. This in turn merges with the pronoun Je as the specifier of the maximal projection TP to form the complementizer phrase (CP) after merging with the empty category (Ø) of the complementizer (C) which has a null-spellout. Then a copy of V mange is generated and moves to the empty T position. The original occurrence of V mange then loses its phonetic features and is therefore deleted (4). While the phonetical features are deleted the semantical and morphological features of the original V mange remain in V. This is important for the checking theory because these features can be used for further syntactic operations as feature checking.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


A Minimalist Perspective on Head Movement of Verbs and Auxiliaries in English
University of Cologne  (Englisches Seminar)
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ISBN (Book)
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Minimalist Syntax, Universal Grammar, Generative Grammatik, Head Movement, Sprachwissenschaften Englisch
Quote paper
Timm Ole Bernshausen (Author), 2009, A Minimalist Perspective on Head Movement of Verbs and Auxiliaries in English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/175960


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