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The Structure of Relative Clauses

Final Report Summary - RC (The Structure of Relative Clauses)

Project context and objectives

The project focuses on relative clause (RC) formation in Slavic, Romance and Germanic languages. The choice is not accidental: all three language groups have interesting idiosyncratic properties as far as RC formation is concerned.

Components of the project:

1. Contrastive study of semantic/syntactic properties of RCs (the relation between the head noun and RC):
- Reconstruction properties;
- Semantic interpretation (amount, restrictive, appositive readings);
- Types of RC markers;
- Extraction properties;
- Extraposition and coordination;
- Interaction with VP ellipsis.

2. Examination of micro-parametric variation (using criteria from 1):
- The influence of Slavic, Germanic and Romance dialects on each other with respect to RC structure;
- Unique properties of hybrid constructions.

Part (1) consolidates new and existing data to test prevailing theories of RC formation. Part (2) forwards the development of a unified theory of RC formation, and provides a testing ground for it.

Methodology: Language surveys, and grammaticality judgment tests.

Overall impact: Provides new insight into the syntax of RC constructions, expands our knowledge of potential universal syntactic principles responsible for clause formation, subordination, and long distance dependencies.

Educational impact: Contributes to the further development of the existing graduate program in Linguistics at the University of Warsaw by engaging students and researchers in hands-on research.

Long term (future pursuits): Contribute to the understanding of subordination, complementation, the structure of the Left Periphery, the overall interaction between syntax and semantics. Provide input to novel ways of testing models of language acquisition, comprehension, and of language disorders. All of which utilise RC data.

In the first half of the project the researcher carried out an extensive literature overview, which served as a basis for further empirical and theoretical research. This work was essential in further narrowing down the set of empirical and theoretical questions that needed to be addressed, which in turn is crucial for further progress in developing a theory of relative clause formation.

In accordance with the adopted timetable, the primary focus at this stage of the project was completing fieldwork studies, examining possible areas of language micro-variation and, most importantly, developing a unified theory of relative clause formation.

In order to achieve this goal, the researcher has carried out fieldwork allowing to examine properties of relative clauses in standard and regional varieties of given languages. The regions explored are Polish, German, Italian, United States (US) English, and Spanish. In order to maximise the use of resources the researcher has combined his fieldwork research with major conferences in the field. Thus allowing him to successfully integrate into the general European academic network of linguists, whilst gathering invaluable data. His integration activities have led him to establish close working relationships with major academic centres in Europe and to strengthen his ties with major US research institutions, thus forming an invaluable bridge between the two.

In addition to fieldwork, the researcher has been engaged in developing a unified theory of relative clause derivations. Making use of research facilities in Europe and the US, the researcher has managed to lay the groundwork for a unified approach to relative clause formation that captures the diversity of these structures cross-linguistically by tying them to the attested variation of nominal modifiers. To be more precise, his extensive research has led him to outline a proposal where relative clause diversity can be reduced to the variation in adjectives and degree phrases that are present in the examined by him languages.

The researcher has made significant progress in developing a comprehensive model of relative clause formation. After carrying out an extensive literature overview, which has served as a basis for this empirical and theoretical research, the researcher has put forward a novel approach to describing the properties of relative clauses.

On the basis of data gathered from diverse European languages (Polish, Spanish, English, German), it argues that it is possible to have a single structure underlying relative clauses. This is achieved by combining raising and matching approaches into one coherent theory of relative clause formation. The proposal is that a Unified Derivation of Relative Clauses (UDRC) can account for the diverse data on relative clauses by assuming that each type of relative clause is derived from one simple underlying representation that involves two instances of the noun, one heading the relative and one inside it (matching), and a relationship is formed between the two via sharing of a modifier/modifiers by raising the nominal modifier(s) out of relative clause (raising). This unified approach I believe has the conceptual advantage of postulating a single derivation mechanism for relative clause formation and carries tangible empirical advantages, which will be highlighted in my brief discussion on degree relative clauses.


Relative clause formation involves:
- Overt Syntax: (i) raising of an XP out of CP to a position modifying the external NP.

At the Interface:
- PF: (ii) deletion of material under identity;
- LF: (iii) establishing the interpretative properties of the relative clause as a syntactic/semantic function of the syntactic/semantic properties of the XP overtly raised out of the CP.

Although not complete, the expected result is a comprehensive theory of how relative clauses are formed. Any major advancement of our understanding of relative clause formation will impact our knowledge of the fundamental mechanisms underlying clause formation, the interaction between syntax and semantics, as well as the impact of morphology on clause structure. This in turn has additional impact not only on an academic level, but also at the level where industry meets science. For example, linguistic models are utilised in developing algorithms for voice recognition software and all sorts of automated parsers. Research in theoretical models of language also has impact on studying language disorders and techniques developed in speech therapy.