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LINGUIST List 25.1436

Tue Mar 25 2014

Review: Historical Linguistics; Syntax; Typology: Hendery (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <rajivlinguistlist.org>

Date: 21-Sep-2013
From: Pratik Chikhaliya <prtkc2009gmail.com>
Subject: Relative Clauses in Time and Space
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3354.html

AUTHOR: Rachel Hendery
TITLE: Relative Clauses in Time and Space
SUBTITLE: A case study in the methods of diachronic typology
SERIES TITLE: Typological Studies in Language 101
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Pratik H Chikhaliya, University of Hyderabad


Rachel Hendery’s “Relative Clause in Time and Space”, published in 2012, is a survey of historically related relative clause constructions based on diachronic typology. It grew out of many synchronic typological works. Her work shows what kind of research is possible in the area of diachronic syntactic typology. It fills a research gap in that it addresses a missing area in previous work on Generative Linguistics which is providing a historical perspective. This book is designed to capture the historical syntactic change of relative clause constructions in natural languages.

In Chapter 1, Hendery answers the following questions: i) What is the difference between diachronic and synchronic study?; ii) What is the importance of (syntactic) typology for investigating language change?; and iii) How can we investigate typology with the help of historical linguistics? The study passes through three important phases: i) Synchronic typology (i.e. synchronic information); ii) Applied diachronic typology (i.e. the area of interaction between diachronic and synchronic); and iii) Diachronic typology (i.e. diachronic information). These three types are categorized differently as per their functions which vary individually. She mentions methods of diachronic typology following the question of “Why use relative clause as a case study?” Further, she also briefly introduces relative clauses and tries to establish a common ground for the reader to understand the phenomena of relative clauses by discussing all terminology used in previous synchronic studies. At the end, she categorizes types and subtypes of relative clauses, relative markers, compares relative clause constructions in the world’s languages and tries to check relative clauses through time.

In Chapter 2, she examines the question of items which can be co-opted for use as ‘relative clause markers’. She reconsiders the discussion of: (i) Heine and Kuteva (2002) (‘World Lexicon of Grammaticalisation’, provides sources of ‘relative conjunctions’ as demonstratives, the word ‘here’, and interrogatives; Heine & Kuteva 2002: 335), where Hendery shows that there are other sources of relative clause markers besides demonstratives and interrogatives; and (ii) Lehmann (1984), who gave a more systematic, three-operation framework (i.e. subordination, attribution, and empty place formation). Through (ii), Hendery provides the organizational principles for the discussion of the origin of relative clauses and their markers. Hendery claims that Lehmann’s four outcomes of relative clause marker change (1984) are only a subset of the many extensions that can occur and can be explained by the similarities between the source and outcomes of extensions in terms of Lehmann’s three-operations. Additionally, Hendery, in this chapter, shows that there are some linguistic traces (i.e. linguistic elements) that are sources of relative clause markers, while others can be the outcome of change in markers. There are certainly other elements that may well be sources in one language and outcomes in another. She also mentions that change in relative clause markers generally proceeds either through fossilization of an element that appears in relative clauses or on the clause boundary, for reasons unrelated to the relative clause itself. Later in her case study, she discusses syntactic elements (i.e. pronouns, classifiers, generic nouns, etc.) by providing language data.

Development from interrogative pronouns to relative clause markers is extremely common, especially, in European languages. This development supports Maxwell’s hypotheses (1982) and Romaine (1984c), who claim that relative clause markers especially, pronominal markers, begin in a lower position of the Accessibility Hierarchy and gradually spread up the scale to core relatives. Hendery concludes that a wider variety of elements (i.e. pronouns, classifiers, generic nouns, interrogatives, demonstratives, etc.) are involved in developing into relative clause markers. There is strong evidence for some of these, such as demonstratives, interrogatives and discourse markers with multiple attested cases that cannot be explained in any other way. Others, such as generic nouns and personal pronouns, certainly seem to be sources in some languages, but the processes by which they develop into relative clause markers are not as clear. Classifiers, indefinite pronouns, possessive markers, comparatives and definite articles, on the other hand, have some sort of diachronic relationship with relative clause markers; there is no evidence of a direct source-outcome relationship.

In Chapter 3, “Other types of relationship between grammatical markers”, the author focuses on the extension and narrowing of markers within the set of relative clauses in a language. This kind of redistribution is found when there is more than one marker competing in various relative contexts in some sort of paradigm. She also talks about the environment when relative clause markers are lost entirely, where loss means when a language goes from having a relative marker to having none or the obsolescence of a specific marker due to total replacement by a new one. The author talks about the distribution of markers in terms of the case role of NPrel (co-referent Noun Phrase in Relative Clause). This concept is synchronically treated by Keenan and Comrie’s Accessibility Hierarchy (1977). Maxwell (1982) shows that AH (Accessibility Hierarchy) also makes predictions about the direction and progress of change in the distribution of relative clause markers. Maxwell’s relativisation strategies say that markers that are extended from limited contexts to less restricted ones will only spread to adjacent positions on the AH and will not skip any position. Further, Romaine (1984c) examines a simpler prediction on the basis of a diachronic study of Germanic relative clause markers. The distribution of some relative clause markers does not have anything to do with pronominalisation strategies and is determined by some other features such as animacy, noun class etc. In terms of the loss of markers and typological change, sometimes there is internal motivation. The study on Tok Pisin by Aitchison (1992) shows that there are some rules that may govern the loss of relative clause markers. In some cases, external motivation also leads to the loss of markers. Aitchison discusses the formal rather than functional changes that can affect relative clause markers, for example, she examines cliticisation, affixation, or changes in their inflection. Language contact may be another reason for the loss of relative markers. These are the sorts of steps taken to examine diachronic typology at the micro level.

In Chapter 4, “Syntactic change in the development of RC constructions”, Hendery discusses possible changes in other features of relative clauses, from most to least attested: i.) Deranking to a balanced verb: at least one well-attested case of gradual change (Japanese); and multiple cases in which a balanced construction is thought to have been copied, but the process is not attested (i.e. a complex sentence in which neither of the verbs is deranked can be said to be ‘balanced’); ii.) Development of prenom. (prenominal RCs): at least two unrelated, attested cases (one gradual, one copied), and further reconstructed cases; iii.) Loss of postnom. (postnominal RCs): a few attested cases, but all except one related to each other; iv.) Development of correl. (correlative constructions): one well documented case (Georgian); v.) Development of postnoms.: multiple semi-attested cases (no strong evidence for gradual development); vi.) Loss of correl.: a few (related) attested cases (Indo-European); vii.) Loss of prenom.: a few (related) semi-attested cases (Turkic) in which the degree to which they have been lost and is further debatable; viii.) Balanced to deranked verb: no clearly attested cases of gradual change; multiple cases where it is thought that relative clauses with deranked verbs were copied or based on non-relative clauses constructions, but again, none in which the process is attested; ix.) Parataxis to hypotaxis: no clearly attested cases. Overall, she says that discontinuous change is in fact quite common.

Hendery, in Chapter 5, “Relevant factors in language change”, discusses the factors responsible for language change with reference to relative clauses. She claims that the position of relative clauses in a language correlates with the language’s ‘basic’ constituent order. She discusses this concept of basic constituent order in a very brief manner. Theoretical syntactic literature claims that the ‘basic word order’ of a language is present in the DS (Deep Structure), but in typology, as she discusses, the ‘basic word order’ (e.g. (S)VO: (Subject - Verb - Object)) can be seen as either a statistical statement about which order is found in a language, or a statement about markedness, i.e., which word order has the fewest stylistic or syntactic restrictions. Hendery examines the cases of attested change among relative clause positions and types in order to see which of the various factors (i.e. basic word order, order of other phrases, relative clause marker type and position, embedding, language family and contact, etc.) seem to be most relevant. She does not provide enough evidence to determine the relevance of embedding. Change in the basic word order of a language does not seem to be a factor responsible for change in the relative clause position. Change in the order of other phrases in some cases has contributed to change in relative clause construction, especially when it is transparently analogous to another modifier construction. While discussing all these factors, we see that the theme of language contact has repeatedly made an appearance. Hendery’s study shows that all languages that have undergone attested changes in relative clause position have been in close contact with a language that has modeled the construction they adopted. As she mentions, it is not only the typology of the languages involved that affects the way in which contact affects relative clauses, but also the type of contact. Hendery reconsiders Alsagoff and Lick’s hypotheses (1988), Stilo’s (1987, 2004) and Johanson’s (cf. Johanson 2002) suggestions to examine her generalization. Finally, she supports Lehmann’s hypothesis about shift between prenominal and postnominal relative clauses, which suggests that prenominal relative clauses require longer and/or more intense contact in order to be copied than postnominal relative clauses do.

In Chapter 6, Hendery provides a brief summary of what she has discussed in preceding chapters, followed by a logical explanation of the changes that occurred and of how to map the changes with regard to space and time. She includes a table showing changes, from best attested to least attested (i.e.: these changes are those that have either been mentioned in the literature, or that we might logically expect to find, but which turned out to not to be attested at all.). She argues that if discontinuous change is more common than gradual change, it would explain why so many languages have multiple ways of expressing the function of a relative clause. Further, she mentions that it is a norm rather than an exception for communities to be in contact with each other and for speakers to be multilingual. The mechanisms involved in contact-induced change are reminiscent of those involved in language internal change: analogy; extension; reanalysis, etc. Diachronic evidence provides some support for an analysis of deranked relative clauses as DPs (Determiner Phrases (Other Phrases)). A diachronic typology can bring a whole new level of information to the construction of taxonomies. So, diachronic interactions between constructions are one of the few windows we have into what speakers consider ‘similar’ and ‘different’. Analogical change and extension will only take place between constructions that speakers see as similar. She suggests that a taxonomy that aims to provide the most information possible would need to account for both formal and functional relationships between constructions, which is why some sort of network diagram may work better than a tree in some circumstances. However, for some purposes, a tree-based taxonomy representing common descent is necessary. She mentions that from a theoretical syntactic view, her findings in this study have implications for the structure of the NP/DP and for the analysis of various types of relative clauses. The findings of this study have applications beyond the area of diachronic typology, with implications for other areas of synchronic and historical investigation.


The book is written very well and its literature review is thorough and proceeds in a step by step fashion. The main points are explained by presenting appropriate data alongside the analysis. The book mainly discusses diachronic typology based on a collection of synchronic typological works, which allows the author to check the historical change and development in relative clause constructions. The scope of the book covers many language families worldwide. It examines relative markers, types of relatives and the similarities and differences between different relative markers in the same language based on the available synchronic work on that language. It unfolds the complex process of change and development in complex sentence constructions in a language. The author deserves much credit for her vast, thorough literature review, which considers linguists’ claims, and for formulating generalizations based on data available from previous literature that is extrapolated to the present diachronic work.

This book accounts for data on relative clauses from many language families: Semitic, Celtic, Chadic, Dravidian, Australian, Ethiopic, Germanic, Finno-Ugric, Indo-European, Indo-Aryan, Kartvelian, Proto-Indo-European, Ngumpin-Yapa, Nguni, Sayhadic, Sinitic, Slavic, Turkic, etc. Such research on diachronic typology, based on synchronic typological works, is one of the very few such research projects on historical change. Hendery has covered all topics related to relative clause constructions, which is substantial. In sum, the present work is a new direction for research in diachronic typology.

Finally, I would like to shed light upon a relevant aspect of Indo-Aryan Languages. For example, the relative marker and complementizer ‘ki’ in Hindi and ‘ke’ in Gujarati are the same for both constructions (i.e. relative clause construction and complement clause construction) in both languages. I think this issue has not been addressed in the present study. However, this is a minor point and does not detract from Hendery’s highly successful diachronic typological study.

The book would be useful for the linguists and (young) research scholars who are interested in diachronic typology and historical change. There is a wider possibility for similar kinds of empirical research in different types of constructions, meaning the present study may attract the interest of other linguists and research scholars as well. Even though her present work is quite lengthy but it is user friendly and easily readable.


Aitchison, Jean. 1992. Relative clauses in Tok Pisin: Is there a natural pathway? In Internal and External Factors in Syntactic Change, Marinel Gerritsen & Dieter Stein (eds.), 295-316. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Alsagoff, Lubna & Lick, Ho Chee. 1988. The relative clause in colloquial Singapore English. World Englishes 17(2): 127-138.

Heine, Bernd & Kuteva, Tania. 2002. World Lexicon of Grammaticalization. Cambridge: CUP.

Johanson, Lars. 2002. Structural Factors in Turkic Language Contacts. Richmond: Curzon Press.

Keenan, Edward L. & Comrie, Bernard. 1977. Noun Phrase accessibility and universal grammar. Linguistic Inquiry 8(1): 63-99.

Lehmann, Christian. 1984. Der Relativsatz: Typologie seiner Strukturen, Theorie seiner Funktionen, Kompendium seiner Grammatik. Tubingen: Gunter Narr.

Lehmann, Christian. 1986. On the typology of relative clauses. Linguistics (Vol. 24 663-381).

Maxwell, Daniel N. 1982. Implications of NP accessibility for diachronic syntax. Folia Linguistica Historica 3(2): 135-152.

Romaine, Suzanne. 1984c. Towards a typology of relative clause formation strategies in Germanic. In Historical Syntax, Jacek Fisiak (ed.), 437-470. Berlin: Mouton.

Stilo, Donald. 1987. Ambiposition as an areal response: The case study of the Iranian zone. In Selected papers from SALA7, Elena Bashir, Madhav Deshpande & Peter Edwin Hook (eds.), 308-335. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Linguistics Club.

Stilo, Donald. 2004. Iranian as a buffer zone between the universal typologies of Turkic and Semitic. In Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion: Case Studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic, Eva Agnes Csato, Bo Isaksson & Carina Jahani (eds.), 35-63. London: Routledge Curzon.


Pratik Chikhaliya is an M.Phil Research Scholar at Center for Applied Linguistics and Translation Studies in University of Hyderabad located in Hyderabad in an Indian state, Andhra Pradesh. His present research area is Complementation in Gujarati. His research interests are: Complex sentence structures in Indo-Aryan Languages, Syntax and Semantic interface, Complex Predicate, and Focus Particles.

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