Archive for the ‘Relativization’ Category

A dark week in early December

December 4, 2017

A week of death, punishment, and destruction. This week: deaths on M W F, punishment on Tu, destruction on Th.

(#1) John Cleese as the host on Monty Python’s “It’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” show

Hello again, and welcome to the show. Tonight we continue to look at some famous deaths. Tonight we start with the wonderful death of Genghis Khan, conqueror of India.

Well, acually, today, the 4th, is Frank Zappa (1993). Friday, the 8th, is John Lennon (1980). And Wednesday, the 6th, is Wolfie M. himself (1791). Tomorrow, the 5th, is Krampusnacht, when the Christmas demon Krampus punishes naughty children (the night before St. Nicholas rewards the good ones, on his feast day). And Thursday, the 7th, is Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of the Japanese bombing of the naval base in Honolulu, which brough the United States into World War II.


Relativizer choice

January 16, 2013

Two recent contributions to my files on restrictive relativizer choice (other than the classic which/that business and the use of that for human referents, both of which are objects of unmerited prescriptivist scorn): a who for human-institution referents and a who for (non-human) animal referents. In both cases, which or that is the prescribed relativizer, and the use of who is an extension granting symbolic human-like status to non-human entities.


Calling resumptive pronouns

June 21, 2012

From Chris Waigl yesterday, a sentence from an article on the consequences of flooding at the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth MN:

[All but one of the animals in the barnyard exhibit — sheep, lambs, goats and the donkey — died in the flooding.] The zoo also lost a snowy owl and a turkey vulture and possibly a raven, which zoo officials can’t determine whether died or escaped.

Here we have relativization “from inside” a subordinate clause (in whether), yielding an “island violation”:

… which zoo officials can’t determine [ whether ___ died or escaped ]

Chris found this straightforwardly unacceptable, and I agree. But we can wonder how the writer ended up with this relative clause, especially when such island violations are usually rescued through the use of a resumptive pronoun:

… which zoo officials can’t determine [ whether they died or escaped ]

This strategy results in a semi-grammatical (but easily processed) clause, which I’ve calledResIsland (for Resumptive – Island) gapless relative. Examples are easy to find — so easy that I don’t collect all the ones that come past me.

So why go with a “zero subject” clause?


Notes from school

April 15, 2012

Last week’s notes from my grand-daughter’s school included this report from a student in the middle school:

In L.A [Language Arts — what used to be called English] we had a lesson on how to organize a story with a follow-up question: Do people make decisions with his head or her heart.

Now, people is plural, used for generic reference, so the standard pronoun anaphoric to it is they (their in the possessive): with their head or (with) their heart. Why go with singular his or her instead?

Two possible factors. One, people doesn’t look plural; it doesn’t have a plural suffix. And two, peevish objections to “singular they“, even with generic antecedents — Everybody thinks either with their head or (with) their heart — have led people to be suspicious of anaphoric they with generic antecedents, even when these are in fact plural. The proscription against singular they has contaminated ordinary anaphoric usage. (For other cases of proscriptions contaminating perfectly innocent constructions, see here.)


Object gap + subject gap

January 27, 2012

Caught in a radio news report this morning, this quote from Barack Obama, with the crucial bit boldfaced:

Obama said of a push for less financial regulation and lower taxes. “And why we would want to adopt something that we just tried and did not work, doesn’t make sense.”


This has a relative clause (that we just tried and did not work) in which a clause with an direct object gap (we just tried ___) is coordinated with a clause with a subject gap (___ did not work) [DO + SU]. As I noted in a Language Log posting on “Amazing conjunctions” back in 2005,

coordination of a clause with an object gap … and a clause with a subject gap … is usually judged ungrammatical, though there’s some question about what condition bars it.

In fact, a 1981 paper of Gerald Gazdar’s (“Unbounded dependencies and coordinate structure”, Linguistic Inquiry 12.155-84) treats such examples as ungrammatical and attempts to give an analysis that predicts that. But examples aren’t hard to find, in writing as well as speech; I myself seem to be given to writing relative clauses with this non-parallel structure.


Extraction from adverbial subordinate clause

January 26, 2012

Ira Glass on public radio’s This American Life #454, Mr. Daisey and the Apple factory (first aired 1/06/12):

Mike Daisey. His one-man show about Apple is going back on stage this month in New York at the Public Theater. The full show has this entire other story line about Steve Jobs that you will have to buy a theater ticket if you want to hear.

See anything notable about that last sentence? Many people don’t, though there’s some tradition in the syntactic literature for treating it as problematic.


Punctuating relatives

November 23, 2011

The beginning of the Wikipedia entry on hair:

(1) Hair is a filamentous biomaterial, that grows from follicles found in the dermis.

At first this looks like that as a non-restrictive relativizer, but in fact which is not really an improvement:

(2) Hair is a filamentous biomaterial, which grows from follicles found in the dermis.

The intended reading is surely restrictive — corresponding to either of the alternatives:

(3a) Hair is a filamentous biomaterial that grows from follicles found in the dermis.

(3b) Hair is a filamentous biomaterial which grows from follicles found in the dermis.

Instead, (1) has the that from (3a) together with the punctuation of (2). How could that happen?



October 23, 2011

There’s been a small burst of recent postings on which vs. that as relativizers — a topic that seems to never die. Here’s an inventory of postings on the topic and on the distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses, on Language Log and this blog, plus a small selection of other postings.


that which won’t die

October 19, 2011

On his blog yesterday (in “That which is restrictive”), Stan Carey reported that on Monday

The Guardian’s Mind your language blog firmly advocated the that/which pseudo-rule.

(that is, use the relativizer that for restrictive relatives, which for non-restrictives). Carey attacked the pseudo-rule on the Guardian’s blog and expanded his critique in yesterday’s (excellent) posting on his own blog. His wry postscript:

My comments at The Guardian helped convert at least one editor. This morning, I received confirmation of a second. One more, and I’ll call it a trend.

We can hope. Though some days it seems like a hopeless battle. Especially while the pseudo-rule propagates itself through the schools.


A puzzle with whose-relatives

July 11, 2011

[Warning: this is long and pretty technical — but, I think, necessarily so.]

From Ben Zimmer on July 5, this wonderful relative clause example (with the crucial part boldfaced), from a NYT story about Gov. Rick Perry of Texas:

(1) Mr. Perry, whose aides say will make a decision within weeks, has been meeting around the country with potential fund-raisers… (link)

In terms that have become customary in talking about relative clauses (and other “extraction” constructions): the relative clause in (1) has a gap in its VP, a subject gap in the clause that is complement to say:

say [ ___ will make a decision within weeks ]

The gap is filled by the relative pronoun who in whose.

Framing this in somewhat more neutral terms (without reference to gaps, fillers, or extraction): who in whose serves as the subject of the VP will make a decision within weeks.

But at the same time, whose aides serves as the subject of the VP say will make a decision within weeks. So there are two syntactic-relation linkages here: the whole NP whose aides to the larger VP, and the relative pronoun who (within whose aides) to the smaller VP.

Ben judged (1) to be somewhat odd, despite its source, and I agreed with him, but he quickly came up with other parallel examples from equally respectable sources, so we concluded that the pattern of linkages in (1) is not to be labeled as generally ungrammatical in English (though there are speakers who prefer alternatives to it). It’s not clear how to analyze such double-linkage examples, but (as Geoff Pullum noted in correspondence with us) movement analyses, in which constituents are literally extracted from other constituents and moved to the front of the clause, would seem to offer no plausible source for them.