Colorless ǀ A Language Generator Archived by Soaring
*Relative clause strategies explained
English uses a relative pronoun strategy to express relative clauses, for instance, in The man [who I know] died, "who" is a relative pronoun that stands in for "the man". In other words, "who I know" can be rearranged into "I know the man". English can also use what's known as a gap strategy where by the relative pronoun is a deleted: The man [I know] died.
Strategies in other languages include the noun reduplication strategy whereby the head noun is reduplicated inside the relative clause, as in: The man [I know the man] died, or a pronoun strategy, as in: The man [I know him] died.
In the first two strategies the structure of the relative clauses is different to the structure of a regular clause; they have been "relativized". In the last two strategies the structure is the same. It has been observed that a language's ability relativize certain types of constituents within the relative clause is constrained along a strict hierarchy of Subject > Direct object > Indirect object > Oblique > Genitive > Object of comparison. So, if you can relativize one of these you can also relativize everything to left of it nothing to right (at which point you have to employ a different strategy). English can relativize all of them:
To unpack this, if you rearrange the relative clauses inside the square brackets to regular clauses you will notice that "who" always stands in for the "the man", however in each case "the man" is filling a different constituent role - subject, direct object, etc.
- Subject: The man [who ran away] died
- Direct object: The man [who I know] died
- Indirect object: The man [who I gave the letter to] died
- Oblique: The man [who I was talking about] died
- Genitive: The man [whose sister I know] died
- Object of comparative: The man [who I am taller than] died