Chomsky's intuitions were as follows (* marks ungrammaticality as usual):
- * That's the boy who they intercepted John's message to.
- * That's the boy who he believed the claim that John tricked.
- * That was a lecture that for him to understand was difficult.
- * Which book did John wonder why Bill had read?
- √ Which book did John think that Bill had read?
- √ What would you approve of John's drinking?
- * What would you approve of John's excessive drinking of?
The discrepancy, and the level of individual variation, are striking - not a single reader agrees with all of Chomsky's judgements, and the only consistent judgements are 2 (always wrong) and 5 (always right.) Most of Chomsky's judgements also happen to be predicted by his (and others in the generative tradition's) theories; your judgements therefore often pose problems for those. According to Chomsky, 1 and 2 should both be ungrammatical for the same reason - they involve movement past more than one "barrier" (boundary of a 'noun phrase' (DP) or clause excluding the complementiser (IP)) at a time. Yet more than half the people here (including me) accept 1, while nobody accepts 2; one could argue that 2 should be less acceptable than 1 because it crosses three barriers rather than two, but why should 1 be acceptable at all? 4 should be ungrammatical because "why" is occupying a position that "which book" should have to move through - but about half of you (including me) think it's fine. And most readers of this blog find 7 to be better than 6 - the opposite of Chomsky's judgements and of the predictions of the "A-over-A" principle he was working with then (although the latter is obsolete.)
Chomsky (1963:51) said of sentences like these: "In some unknown way, the speaker of English devises the principles of [wh-movement etc.] on the basis of data available to him; still more mysterious, however, is the fact that he knows under what formal conditions these principles are applicable... The sentences of [1-3] are as 'unfamiliar' as the vast majority of those that we encounter in daily life, yet we know intuitively, without instruction or awareness, how they are to be treated by the system of grammatical rules which we have mastered." This seems to be false; individually we often find it difficult to decide the grammaticality of sentences like these, and collectively we routinely disagree on them. Certainly it cannot be construed as belonging to that part of the "knowledge of language" that is, in the words of Chomsky (1963:64), "independent of intelligence and of wide variations in individual experience".
If it did, then that would be rather interesting: it has been claimed that the principles of Subjacency must be innate, because children aren't exposed to enough evidence to deduce them otherwise. But given the level of variation actually observed, it is tempting to reverse the reasoning: children don't deduce most of the principles of Subjacency, so they must neither be exposed to enough evidence for them nor have innate knowledge of them. Rather than postulating arbitrary rules hard-wired into the brain and specific to the language faculty, a more promising way to explain Subjacency phenomena might be to try to derive them from processing difficulties, as suggested by Sag et al.