Empty Category Principle

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Empty Category Principle (brief: ECP) is a principle which requires that empty categories be properly governed. It is assumed that the ECP does not hold of all empty categories: it holds for A- and A'-bound traces (i.e. NP-traces and variables), but not for pronominal empty categories like pro and PRO.

Well-known examples of ECP-violations are extractions of an adjunct out of an island, as in (i) (containing a wh-island) and configurations displaying the that-trace effect in English, as in (ii). In both cases, the trace cannot be properly antecedent-governed because of the intervention of a barrier.

(i)  * howi did John ask [ whether Bill fixed the car ti ]
(ii) * whoi does John believe [ that ti will fix the car ]


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Chomsky, N. 1986b. Barriers, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding, Foris, Dordrecht.
  • Lasnik, H. and M. Saito 1992. Move alpha: conditions on its application and output, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Lasnik, H. and M. Saito 1984. On the nature of proper government, Linguistic Inquiry 15, pp. 235-289
  • Rizzi, L. 1990. Relativized Minimality, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

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