Professor Bernard Comrie, UCSB and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
"General noun-modifying clauses in the world's languages"
Matsumoto (1997 and elsewhere) has argued that Japanese does not have a distinct relative clause construction, but rather a general noun-modifying clause construction (GNMCC), which covers translation equivalents of English relative clauses like (1), sentential complements with noun heads like (2), and yet other constructions like (3).
(1) the man [who grilled the fish]
(2) the fact [that the man grilled the fish]
(3) the smell [of the fish being grilled]
Matsumoto argues further that the interpretation of such examples in Japanese relies only minimally on syntax, and primarily on semantics and pragmatics.
Comrie (1996, 1998, and elsewhere) suggests on the basis of prima facie evidence that this pattern might hold for a number of other Asian languages, but relatively little work has been done to test this hypothesis. For the past few years, however, Comrie and Matsumoto have been leading a project to investigate such constructions, both in languages that seem to have GNMCCs (such as Korean and Chinese), and also languages that seem to lack them (such as Turkish). I will report on some of the results of this investigation, including discussion of some of the factors that might favor or disfavor the development of GNMCCs.