LINGUIST List 7.1266

Thu Sep 12 1996

Sum: Relative `that'

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Tom Mylne, Sum: Relative `that'

Message 1: Sum: Relative `that'

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 1996 11:40:16 +1000
From: Tom Mylne <>
Subject: Sum: Relative `that'


Many thanks to the following people who responded to my query on this
topic posted on 22 August: Marie Egan, A. von Klopp, Richard Oehrle,
Ellen Prince, Clarlie Row, Robert Sigley, Karen Stanley, H. Stephen
Straight, Gregory Ward.

Rodney Huddleston, on whose behalf I posted the query, has compoiled
the following summary:

[A] Examples.

Ellen Prince has been collecting examples for a while, and sent a
pageful (from internet discussions about roses), including:

(1) One funny thing -- America, that looked lousy last summer and
started off bright yellow this summer, is now (knock on budwood) very
healthy looking.

(2) I'm very curious to see what Jennie Anne looks like when it
opens. The bloom that was on it, that was fully blown, is still
hanging in there

Robert Sigley is doing a thesis on relativiser choice in NZ English,
working with a corpus of 10,000 written and 5,000 spoken relative
clauses, including a dozen or so that he would analyse as
non-restrictives with `that'. He quotes three from the Wellington
Corpus of Written New Zealand English (to be cited in a forthcoming
paper of his):

(3) There were other patrons, that included James Mackay and Walter
Buller, but none showed such consistent support of the artist's work.

(4) Twisted roots, terribly gnarled like the rheumatic hands of a very
old man, had continually snagged at my thick woollen shirt -- and deep
holes, that had once contained the roots of these now degraded forest
giants, were dangerously hidden by concealing growth.

(5) We were taken on a grand tour of the wards and workrooms. [...]
The smell, that I was to know so well for so long, almost overwhelmed

Richard Oehrle referred us to examples in Jespersen's MEG, Vol III,
esp sections 5.1.8, 8.1.2.

The best published discussion we know of is: Jacobsson, Bengt (1994)
`Non-restrictive relative that-clauses revisited', Studia
Neophilologica 66(2), 181-195. This contains a large number of written
examples, including:

(6) Instead there was a levelled lawn with a table ... The lawn, that
ran back to an impressive house, was immense, the grass blades as fine
as pine needles.

(7) The patas monkey, that spends almost all of its time in open
grassland, adopts just such tactics, standing up on its hind legs
whenever it is alarmed.

(8) His heart, that had lifted at the sight of Joanna, had become
suddenly heavy at the sight of Ramdez thumping after her with the

(9) February, that in other years held intimations of spring, this
year prolonged the bitter weather.

[B] `That I know of'

Karen Stanley came up with an interesting type of example:

(10) There's nothing about biology in the reading, (at least) that I
know of.

An indefinite like `nothing' can't be the antecedent for a standard
non-restrictive - this was one of the grammatical differences between
restrictive and non-restrictive relatives pointed out in early TG
discussion (`*Nobody, who had read his book, took any notice of
him'). The relative in (10) has the character of an afterthought, and
one could repeat `nothing' with the clause then restrictive:
`... nothing that I know of, at least'. The same applies to an example
of Jacobsson's:

(11) How much other lying do you do to me?' -- `None. That I can
remember right now.

It can also occur with a clause as antecedent:

(12) She has not rung since then that I know of.

But one of Ellen Prince's examples had it used more like an ordinary

(13) Just Gerry's family is scattered over the US, Canada, Brazil,
Zimbabwe, South Africa, France, England, Italy, Sardinia, Israel, and
Malaysia -- that he knows of! -- so you can imagine where the rest of
the class wound up.

[C] What kind of a distinction is it?

Robert Sigley also raised the important question of what we mean by
`non-restrictive'. He concludes that `the real distinction to be drawn
is not between restrictive/nonrestrictive postmodification in some
object set-theoretic sense, but instead between relevant/irrelevant
postmodification in context. By definition, all strictly
`restrictive' clauses are also relevant; but so are some strictly
`nonrestrictive' clauses, and these clauses allow `that' and even
(nonsubject) null, as relativisers.' An example he cites is:

(14) International security depends on 20,000 strategic and 30,000
tactical nuclear weapons of which only a small fraction will trigger
the global climactic winter *0* we have only recently learnt to

I agree essentially with this position, and have used the following
example to illustrate:

(15) He had three sons he could rely on for help and so was not unduly

There is no implication that he had more than three sons: the relative
clause is treated like a restrictive one not because it limits the
set, but because it is essential information: that's why he was not
unduly worried. The Jacobsson paper mentioned above has, in addition
to its invaluable set of examples, an excellent discussion of these
matters; he concludes that it might be better to use such terms as
`tight' and `loose', and I'm coming to think that this could be a
useful way to avoid confusion as to whether `restrictive' and
non-restrictive' are intended as semantic or grammatical categories.
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