Linguistics Anonymous

11 March 2008

It's a two-headed monster!

While working on my thesis, I came across the following interesting sentence today:

Taro-wa [[[dare-ga neko-o turete kita] -no] -ga nigedasita ka] sitte iru.
Taro-TOP who-NOM cat-ACC brought along NM NOM ran away Q know.
Lit. "Taro knows who(x) brought along a cat and that the cat that x brought along ran away."

Of particular interest to me is the nesting of relative clauses here. We have our most embedded clause, "dare-ga neko-o turete kita." This clause then merges with a matrix clause, "... -ga nigedasita ka." In this matrix verb, neko is interpreted as the subject of "nigedasita." However, this is further embedded in another matrix clause, "Taro wa ... sitte iru." Oddly enough in this one, dare "who" is interpreted as the object of "sitte iru!" The innermost embedded clause provides two separate heads for two successive matrix clauses!

Has anyone ever seen data like this from any other language? This is particularly complicated by the fact that the above example is a head-internal relative, and not an English-style external relative (I can't even think of an equivalent English example). I'm quite curious as to what is going on here.


  • I hate to say it, but I don't think this sentence works in Japanese. I think you would need to change it to [dareka-ga turete kita neko]. The pronominal "no" doesn't seem to work.

    Taro-wa[[dareka-ga turete kita neko] -ga nigedasita ka] sitte iru.

    Taro knows that the cat somebody brought ran away. I don't think it can be expressed that Taro knows the person and the fact simultaneously in this type of sentence.

    Taro-wa [[dare-ga neko-o turete kita]-no] sosite [(sono) neko-ga nigedasita ka]] sitte iru.

    This one semantically expresses the intended argument. Maybe Taro can know who brought the cat and also that the cat escaped, but I don't think the original embedding works at all.

    Just my thoughts.

    Ken Knight

    By Blogger Ken Knight, at 11:00 PM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:30 AM  

  • By Anonymous オテモヤン, at 2:22 AM  

  • @Knight

    Your first sentence is grammatical, but means "Taro knows whether the cat somebody brought ran away".

    Your second sentence is not grammatical. Maybe you mean

    Taro-wan dare-ga neko-o turete kita-ka, sosite neko-ga nigedasita koto-wo sitte iru.

    As for OPs original setence, I find it borderline grammatical (although clumsy), but it has to be parsed differently:

    Taro-wa [dare-ga [[neko-o turete kita-no] -ga nigedasita] ka] sitte iru.

    and does not mean what is stated, but something like

    Taro knows who brought a cat which started running away

    i.e. not two parallel pieces of knowledge. The core thing here is that the sentence

    Turete kita neko-ga nigedasita (the cat that sby brought ran away)

    is sometimes expressed as

    Neko-o turete kita-no-ga nigedasita

    with an internal head. Next add a topic:

    Jon-wa neko-o turete kita-no-ga nigedasita (As for John, the cat (he) brought ran away)

    Next, change John to dare, with the obligatory ga for dare, and embed in the matrix sentence, and we're done (dare becomes a sub-topic, or a placeholder for it, I guess).

    Anie, I'd be interested in knowing where you got the parse and translation for the sentence. I don't agree with them.

    By Anonymous dainichi, at 10:52 AM  

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