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A corpus-based analysis of pronoun choice in German relative clauses

TitleA corpus-based analysis of pronoun choice in German relative clauses
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsBrandt P, Fuß E
JournalBelgian Journal of Linguistics
Type of ArticleJournal Article

This paper investigates the conditions that govern the choice between the German neuter singular relative pronouns das ‘that’ and was ‘what’. We show that das requires a lexical head noun, while in all other cases was is usually the preferred option; therefore, the distribution of das and was is most successfully captured by an approach that does not treat was as an exception but analyzes it as the elsewhere case that applies when the relativizer fails to pick up a lexical gender feature from the head noun. We furthermore show how the non-uniform behavior of different types of nominalized adjectives (positives allow both options, while superlatives trigger was) can be attributed to semantic differences rooted in syntactic structure. In particular, we argue that superlatives select was due to the presence of a silent counterpart of the quantifier alles ‘all’ that is part of the superlative structure.