Case Marking and Negative Closure: Arguments for A-Chain Reconstruction?

Sue Brown, Harvard University

Introduction: Chomsky (1995: 327) argues that “reconstruction in the A-Chain does not take place.” Chomsky argues that Quantifier Lowering accounts for the “lowered” reading of everyone in (1), whereby the universal quantifier is interpreted within the scope of negation.

(1) Everyone seems not to be there yet. (paraphrased as “It seems that not everyone is there yet.”)

Lasnik (1999a, 1999b) concurs with Chomsky, arguing that A-Chain reconstruction is not possible, because A-Movement does not leave a trace. Boeckx (1999) argues against Chomsky and Lasnik, claiming that residual A-Chain reconstruction effects do exist and that the uninterpretable Case feature of arguments is what sometime blocks reconstruction of quantifiers.

In this paper, I present further arguments, based on case marking data and the interpretation of argument chains in Russian, that appear to be in favor of A-Chain reconstruction.

Data: It is quite familiar from the literature (Babby 1980a, 1980b, Chvany 1975) that GN-marked arguments, be they Subj or Obj, receive an existential interpretation in neutral contexts (2), while arguments marked Acc or Nom tend to receive a presuppositional interpretation, but can receive an existential interpretation (3)-(4):

(2)  On  ne   pisal   pis’ma.      (3)  On  ne      pisal   pis’mo.      (4)  Deti        ne   igrajut.
      he   not  wrote letterGEN         he   not     wrote letterACC         kidsNOM not  play
      ‘He didn’t write a letter’         ‘He didn’t write a/the letter’ ‘The kids aren’t playing/No kids are playing’

Analysis: Brown (1999) argues that the answer lies in the different locations of Case checking domains, as illustrated in (5).

(5) Checking Domains

                  C      TP= Checking Domain for Nom
                     T AspP= Checking Domain for Acc
                        Asp   NegP= Checking Domain for GN
                           Neg   VP

Following a copy theory of movement and assuming that (i) arguments that raise for Case checking purposes form chains of the type <α t(α)> (where α consists of either the overt argument or the non-overt feature sublabel of that argument, a forms the head of the chain, and the trace (or copy) t(α) of the raised element forms the tail of the chain in the base-generated position) and that (ii) all elements interpreted in the c-command domain of NegP receive an existential interpretation (negative closure of events, modified from Diesing’s (1992) notion of “existential closure”), we can conclude the following:

Thus the existential interpretation of GN-marked arguments follows naturally from the fact that both the head and the tail of that chain fall within the domain of negative closure, which is induced at the NegP level. The ability for Acc and Nom marked arguments to receive either an existential or a presuppositional interpretation also follows, since the tails of their argument chains fall within the domain of existential or negative closure, while the heads fall outside this domain. Depending on whether we interpret the head or the tail (i.e., reconstruction) of these chains, the arguments receive either a presuppositional/generic or existential interpretation. In other words the interpretive possibilities of arguments are determined by the positions of the “links” in their chain.

Conclusion: The fact that the Nom and Acc arguments have dual interpretations is a strong argument in favor of A-Chain reconstruction or at least its effects. This conclusion is in accordance with Boeckx 1999 and in opposition to Chomsky 1995 and Lasnik 1999a, 1999b.


Babby, L. Existential sentences and negation in Russian. Ann Arbor: Karoma, 1980a.

________. “Word order, case, and negation in Russian existential sentences.” Slavic transformational syntax Eds. Brecht R. and Chvany C. Columbus: Slavica, 1980b: 221–234.

Boeckx, C. “Scope reconstruction and A-movement.” Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 19 (2001): 503–548.

Brown, S. The syntax of negation in Russian: A Minimalist approach. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications, 1999.

Chomsky, N. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.

Chvany, C. On the syntax of BE-sentences in Russian. Cambridge, Mass.: Slavica Publishers, 1975.\

Diesing, M. Indefinites. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992.\

Lasnik, H. “On a Scope Reconstruction Paradox.” Chomsky Essays Discussion Salon at, 1999a.

Lasnik, H. “Chains of Arguments.” Working Minimalism Eds. Epstein S. and Hornstein N. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999b.