A Comparative Study of English and Chinese Relative Clauses Based on Two Competing Derivational Approaches
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Relative clauses reflect fairly complex syntactic properties cross-linguistically. No consensus has been achieved as to how relative clauses are derived. Two competing proposals have existed for a long time. The first proposal is known as the standard approach, which claims that relative clauses are self-contained CPs that syntactically adjoin to NPs they are associated with and semantically function as modifiers to these NPs. The link between the relative clause and the NP it modifies is based on a “binding relation” that holds between this NP and an anaphoric element contained within the relative clause. This anaphoric element is either realized overtly as a wh-relative pronoun or covertly as a gap. The second proposal has been put forward in particular by Kayne (1994), which claims that a full CP is selected by a determiner as its complement and hence an NP or a special DP headed by a wh-relative determiner is promoted from within that CP to Spec CP position. This promoted NP/DP is thus related to its trace which remains at the base position, in terms of a straightforward “movement chain”. There are cross-linguistic facts both in favor of and against each of these two approaches. This paper first summarizes, from a language-general perspective, the merits and demerits of the underlying hypotheses pertinent to both approaches. Second, the two approaches are evaluated and compared respectively with regard to English relative clauses and Chinese relative clauses. Finally, it is concluded that the syntax of relative clauses is largely language-specific and is perhaps even structurally specific. Consequently, it might not be appealing to try to establish a unified derivational approach for relative clauses in general.