Volume 18, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1606-822X
  • E-ISSN: 2309-5067



Japanese wh-expressions appear in various kinds of operator-variable structures, including wh-questions and sentences with universal and existential quantification. The nature of the operator-variable relation is determined by an associated particle, such as the question marker or the universal particle . Given this, it has been widely assumed since Kuroda (1965) that the wh-expressions are to be interpreted as variables bound by those quantificational particles. This paper argues against this prevailing view by proposing that these wh-expressions are operators with unspecified quantificational force. Building on an insight by Nishigauchi (1990), I argue that they must covertly move to positions that allow them to probe particles and to acquire specific quantificational forces from them. I demonstrate that this analysis captures the main properties of Japanese wh-expressions as well as the differences between them and their Chinese counterparts. Huang (1982) proposed a covert movement analysis for argument wh-phrases in Chinese, which was extended to Japanese, for example, in Lasnik & Saito (1984) and Richards (2001). But Tsai (1999) has convincingly shown that they are subject to unselective binding and are interpreted in situ as variables. If the analysis for Japanese in this paper is correct, it shows that Huang’s approach can be – and should be – maintained for wh-phrases in Japanese with some refinements.

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