Syntactic Theory


What is pied-piping? Let us first have a look at the famous story which could be helpful to understand the definition.

In 1284, while the town of Hamelin was suffering from a rat infestation, a man dressed in colourful garments appeared, claiming to be a rat-catcher. He promised the townsmen a solution for their problem with the rats. The townsmen in turn promised to pay him for the removal of the rats. The man accepted, and thus played a musical pipe to lure the rats with a song into the Weser River, where all of them drowned. Despite his success, the people reneged on their promise and refused to pay the rat-catcher. The man left the town angrily, but returned some time later, seeking revenge.

While the inhabitants were in church, he played his pipe again, this time attracting the children of Hamelin. One hundred and thirty boys and girls followed him out of the town, where they were lured into a cave and never seen again. Depending on the version, at most two children remained behind (one of whom was lame and could not follow quickly enough, the other one was deaf and followed the other children out of curiosity) who informed the villagers of what had happened when they came out of the church.

In linguistics, pied-piping is the common, informal name for the ability of question words and relative pronouns to drag other words along with them when brought to the front, as part of wh-movement. In the case where the wh-word is a determiner such as which or whose, pied-piping refers to the wh-determiner's appearance sentence-initially along with its complement.


a) For whom are the pictures?

b) The mayor, pictures of whom adorn his office walls.

In a), the word "for" is pied-piped by "whom" away from its declarative position ("The pictures are for me")

In b), both words "pictures of" are pied-piped in front of the relative pronoun, which normally starts the relative clause.

In English, pied-piping is either obligatory or optional in different cases.

In the case of determiners, pied-piping is obligatory.


c)  Which cari does he like ti?

d) *Whichi does he like ti car?

“Which” is the determiner of “car”, so “car” pied-pipes “which”, d) is ungrammatical

To whom did John give the book? ("who" pied-pipes the "to", leaving a trace in COMP,V)

Who did John give the book to? ("who" does not pied-pipe the "to", leaving a trace in COMP,P)

Pied-piping can be optional is often the case when a wh-word or phrase is the object of a preposition.


e) To whomi did John give the book ti? 

f) Whoi did John give the book to ti? 

In e), "who" pied-pipes the "to", leaving a trace in COMP, V.

In f), “who" does not pied-pipe the "to", leaving a trace in COMP, P

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