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Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 71–122 | Cite as

Relative embeddings: a Circassian puzzle for the syntax/semantics interface

  • Ivano Caponigro
  • Maria Polinsky
Open Access
Article

Abstract

This paper documents and analyzes the pattern used in the Northwest Caucasian language Adyghe (Circassian) to express what the following five different constructions convey in other languages: headed and headless relative clauses, embedded declaratives, embedded polar interrogatives, and embedded constituent interrogatives. We argue that Adyghe encodes the meanings of all these embedded structures by means of the same syntactic construction, a relative clause. This pervasive use of relative clauses is possible due to mechanisms that are independently attested not just in Adyghe but also in more familiar languages like English. These mechanisms include concealed questions, polarity operators, and nominals such as fact and question that can connect propositional attitude verbs or interrogative verbs with embedded clauses. We suggest that this extensive use of relative clauses in Adyghe is triggered by the absence of non-relative complementizer. We further show that this use is facilitated by their morphological visibility: a relativizer realized as a prefix on the verb, verbal affixation, a rich system of applicative heads hosting indirect arguments, and the availability of a case marker suffixed to headless relatives. We conclude by discussing the implications of the Adyghe system for the general design of embedding and subordination in natural language.

Keywords

Adyghe (Circassian) Relative clauses Headless relatives Embedded clauses Declarative clauses Interrogative clauses Concealed questions Polarity operators 

Abbreviations

abs

absolutive

adn

adnominal

adv

adverbial

appl

applicative

ben

benefactive

com

comitative

comp

complementizer

cop

copula

dir

directional

dyn

dynamic

erg

ergative

fut

future

impf

imperfective

inf

infinitive

instr

instrumental

interr

interrogative

inv

inverse

loc

locative

mot

motive

neg

negation

nom

nominative

obl

oblique

p

postposition

pl

plural

poss

possessive

pot

potential

pred

predicate

pres

present

reas

reason

rec

reciprocal

refl

reflexive

rel

relativizer

sg

singular

Spec

specifier

spec

specific

subj

subject

temp

temporal

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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