An HPSG-Analysis for Free Relative Clauses in German

Author: Stefan Müller

Subject Areas: Nontransformational syntax of German, HPSG

From GB literature (cf. (Bausewein, 1990)) on the subject it is known that free relatives behave partly like noun phrases. They can fill argument positions of verbs.

(1) a. Was er nicht kennt, ißt er nicht.
    b. Die da stehen, kennen wir nicht.
And although they are finite sentences, they are serialized like noun phrases in the German Mittelfeld.
(2) Er hat, was er geschenkt bekommen hat, sofort in den Schrank gestellt.
The function free relatives can take is not restricted to complements. Depending on the properties of the relative phrase, free relatives can be modifiers as well.
(3) Wo du schläfst, ist es laut.
I will argue that free relatives project to a category that is tightly related to the category of the relative phrase. The relation between the relative phrase and the projection of the free relative clause is established via a relational constraint (a disjunction basically). This accounts both for the syntactic regularities, and for the semantics of free relatives.

As Ingria (1990) has shown, assignment of different case in the relative and the matrix clause–like in (1b)–poses problems for grammars that rely on unification alone. In the following paper I will argue against his subsumption based account, and provide a different solution to the problem that relies on the above mentioned relational constraints for the projection of properties of the relative phrase.

In general there are three possibilities to analyze sentences like (1-3): an empty head, a unary projection and a lexical rule. I will argue for the unary schema and discuss the alternatives.

And just for fun another example sentence taken from HPSG für das Deutsche (from the part that describes free relatives):

(5) Was bei Ingria ein Subsumptionstest ist, ist bei Dalrymple und Kaplan ein Enthaltenseinstest.


An earlier version of this paper is published in the Proceedings of Formal Grammar 1997 in Aix-en-Provence. The full version appeared in Grammars 2(1).

Grammars (53 pages):

FG (12 pages):