Gapless relatives

An old topic, which has cropped up on ADS-L in the past few days. I’ll try to sort out that discussion in a while, but first a quick look back at (some) postings on the topic, in chronological sequence.

LanguageLog, ML, 10/14/07, Ask Language Log: gapless relatives (link)

… [ex] a service that the consumer goes, “Wow, you really made this easier for me”

Standard English allows a somewhat similar function in clauses introduced by such that

Gapless relatives are found in standard versions of some other languages, notably Korean and Japanese

LanguageLog, AZ, 10/14/07, More gapless relatives (link)

[on the ML posting of 10/14/07] As it turns out, non-standard English has (at least) three types of gapless relatives, two with pronouns instead of gaps, and the type above, with neither a gap nor a pronoun.

… [ex] There are films that you are lucky that you don’t have to sit through the whole thing.

I’ll call these NoPro gapless relatives, to distinguish them from gapless relatives with “resumptive pronouns” in them. Resumptives are pronouns that function in relative clauses much like gaps do in English. They are incredibly common in the languages of the world; often they are just the ordinary personal pronouns put to this special purpose. This is the case in non-standard English usage, as in the resumptive variant of the last ear-piercing relative above:

… [ex] a guy who if he pierced his ears he would have gravy coming out of them

I’ll call this sort of example, where the resumptive is in alternation with a gap, a ResPrince gapless relative — Res for resumptive, Prince for Ellen Prince, who’s studied them (see her 1990 article “Syntax and discourse: a look at resumptive pronouns”, in BLS 16.482-97).

… [Prince] noted that such resumptives are perfectly standard in Yiddish, though they’re non-standard in English.

… The ResPrince examples differ from another use of resumptives in English — to serve in place of gaps in positions from which “extraction” is barred, as in this example from an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition on 3/19/07 (the interviewee is talking about Wal-Mart): [these are ResIsland exx]

… [ex] They have a billion dollars of inventory that they don’t know where it is.

… A final note: once again, non-standard usage in English reflects syntactic patterns that are standard in other languages. NoPro relatives are like relative types in (among other languages) Japanese and Korean; ResPrince relatives are like a relative type in (at least) Yiddish; and ResIsland relatives involve resumptive pronouns of a very ordinary sort — deployed in English to allow expression of meanings that can’t be easily expressed by gapped relatives, which are subject to constraints on extraction, while pronouns are not.

LanguageLog, AZ, 1/12/08: A Richardson relative clause (link)

… [ex] all the New Hampshire voters who I interrupted their meals the last few days

AZBlog, 2/1/11: Resumptive pronoun or something (link)

.. [ex] Washburn, whom Titans management allowed his contract to expire

AZBlog, 6/21/12: Calling presumptive pronouns (link)

… [ex] a raven, which zoo officials can’t determine whether died or escaped

One Response to “Gapless relatives”

  1. John Lawler Says:

    More on syntactic Islands — the source of the ResIsland variety —here.

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