Dialects: Rel. clause subj. in interr.?

RonButters ronbutters at AOL.COM
Fri Jun 4 21:08:14 UTC 2010

"unacceptable" means that they follow regular grammatical rules but are hard to process. Like, "the horse raced by the barn fell" and "the oyster the oyster split split"
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-----Original Message-----
From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Date:         Fri, 4 Jun 2010 11:17:25
Subject:      Re: [ADS-L] Dialects: Rel. clause subj. in interr.?

At 3:32 PM +0800 6/4/10, Randy Alexander wrote:
>Is this grammatical in your dialect?:
>"Was that he was guilty obvious?"

This was a sentence type much discussed in the earlier ('60s-'70s)
generative literature.  Haj Ross (officially John Robert Ross)
treated it as an instance of a violation of what he variously called
the "Internal Clause constraint" and "Internal NP over S Constraint".
The version in his dissertation (1967: 251) states:

Grammatical sentences containing an internal NP which exhaustively
dominates S are unacceptable, unless the main verb of that S is a

(The last codicil is to allow e.g. "Was his having knocked over the
lamp obvious?")

Susumu Kuno discusses these in an accessible paper "Constraints on
internal clauses and sentential subjects", Linguistic Inquiry 4
(1973): 363-85.  He starts with examples very similar to the one

*Did that John showed up please you?
*Is that the world is round obvious?

as opposed to the impeccable extraposed versions:

Is the fact that that the world is round obvious?  [not exhaustively dominated]
Is it obvious that the world is round                  [not internal]

The sentences falling under the constraint have variously been
considered ungrammatical or grammatical but unacceptable.


P.S.  Randy's example actually doesn't involve a relative clause but
a sentential complement: there's no noun phrase that "that he was
guilty" modifies--it's the subject of the sentence.

P.P.S.  It's the internal status that's crucial, not the interrogative:

*That that John showed up pleased her was obvious.
That it pleased her that John showed up was obvious.

(from Kuno's paper)

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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