English relative clauses in a cross-Germanic perspective

  • Julia Bacskai-Atkari University of Konstanz
Keywords: clause typing, relative clauses, feature checking, case, English, German, Dutch, left periphery, operator movement, complementiser


The article talk examines the distribution of relativising strategies in English in a cross-Germanic perspective, arguing that English is quite unique among Germanic languages both regarding the number of available options and their distribution. The differences from other Germanic languages (both West Germanic and Scandinavian) are primarily due to the historical changes affecting the case and gender system in English more generally. The loss of case and gender on the original singular neuter relative pronoun facilitated its reanalysis as a complementiser. The effect of the case system can also be observed in properties that are not evidently related to case. Specifically, choice between the pronoun strategy and the complementiser strategy is known to show differences according to the Noun Phrase Accessibility Hierarchy. While English shows a subject vs. oblique distinction in this respect, matching its nominative/oblique case system, German dialects show a subject/direct object vs. oblique distinction, matching the nominative/accusative/oblique case setting in the language. The particular setting in English is thus not dependent on e.g. a single parameter but on various factors that are otherwise present in other Germanic languages as well, and it is ultimately the complex interplay of these factors that results in the particular setup.