For a Headed Analysis of Free Relatives in German and English: The ‘Free Relative Economy Principle’:

| June 6, 2013

July 2013
Volume 7 Issue 1

| July 2013 home | PDF version |

For a Headed Analysis of Free Relatives in German and English:The ‘Free Relative Economy Principle’:

Nicholas Catasso
Ca’ Foscari University of Venice
Department of Comparative Linguistic and Cultural Studies

Bioprofile: Nicholas Catasso holds a MA in Theoretical linguistics from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. His interests include generative grammar, with a special focus on non-canonical syntactic phenomena of Germanic and Romance languages at the interface with semantics and pragmatics, the left periphery of the clause, history of linguistics, epistemology and philosophy of language, as well as cartographic approaches to German dialectology.


One of the main problems concerning the analysis of free (or ‘headless’ ) relative clauses is the difficulty in identifying the exact syntactic position of the WH-phrase and in particular whether it raises to a clause-internal or clause-external position. In this paper I argue, following Groos and Van Riemsdijk’s (1981) generative-oriented approach, for a [Spec, CP]-position of the WH-phrase through the comparison of data from Standard German on the one hand and from English on the other hand, excluding the hypothesis that a WH-element may be the head of the ‘headless’ relative. In contrast to Van Riemsdijk’s hypothesis, I will nevertheless argue that the WH-phrase is not a ‘shared constituent’ (Van Riemsdijk, 2006, p. 354) in a language like German, suggesting that in this language the head of the free relative is present and is given by a lexically empty demonstrative whose phonetic realization is not obligatory. The phonetic realization of the head of free relatives in German is tendentially subject to a generalization which I call the ‘Free Relative Economy Principle’, strongly depending on whether there is full matching between the matrix and the lower verb.

Keywords: Free relative clauses, German, relative pronouns, syntactic typology of relatives

Tags: , , ,

Category: Volume 7 Issue 1 June 2013