Japanese: Revised edition by Shoichi Iwasaki:

In English, noun phrases within a relative clause cannot be further relativized, but this is allowed in some cases in Japanese.

If there is such a rule for English, it must hold for many other Western languages. (I thought nesting was straightforward.)

What is the rule?

It seems to be related to Accessibility. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_clause#Accessibility_hierarchy

  • 2
    This is obviously wrong. "This is the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built."
    – TKR
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 20:29
  • That seems wrong. Could you give an example? Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 21:06
  • 1
    @TKR - your sample is not nested. This is: "The rat that the cat that Jack has was eaten."
    – amI
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 21:25
  • 1
    @aml The question as stated seems to be whether NPs in a relative clause can themselves be relativized (i.e. be the antecedent of a relative clause), which they are in the example I gave. But this may be a bad formulation (see Greg Lee's answer).
    – TKR
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 23:43

1 Answer 1


Iwasaki's formulation is unclear. What he means is that besides the one NP in a relative clause that is made into a relative pronoun (or ortherwise marked as being relativized), you cannot relativize a second NP in the same relative clause. For instance, relativizing "the book" in "John gave the book to the girl" gives the relative clause "which John gave to the girl". If you then try to relativize "the girl" in this relative clause, you get the unacceptable *"who(m) ... which John gave to".

For instance, *"the girl who(m) I read the book which John gave to" has had two relative pronouns removed from the clause "John gave [] to []". Evidently this is prohibited. John Ross in Constraints on Variables in Syntax studied such cases, compared the English examples with Japanese examples, and concluded that the Complex NP Constraint, as he dubbed it, applies only to "chopping rules" and not to "copying rules". With chopping rules, nothing is left in the original position of a relative pronoun, while something may be left behind by a copying rule.

  • 3
    @HizHa Don't ask people to delete their answers. You can anonymize this question by disassociating your account from it, your username will disappear from this site.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 14:26
  • Dear Mr. Lee. Thank you for your comments. I've saved multiple copies of your comments, and i may be learning things from them years from now. _________ I have a request. Could you delete your answer? I am trying to retreat (scale back my presence) from Ling.SE and would like to delete this page. After you've deleted your answer, i should be able to delete the other answers and the original question. Thank you very much for your consideration. –
    – HizHa
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 14:50
  • ( Just above, a moderator tells me, "... your username will disappear from this site." ---- but that is not what i want to see happen. _______ So therefore, Prof. Lee, (I ask you) please delete this answer. Thank you very much for your consideration. )
    – HizHa
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 1:33
  • 1
    @HizHa Maybe I wasn't clear: you won't lose your account on this site. Only the question won't show your username, but you'll still possess your account and you'll be able to post questions.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 21:36
  • 5
    @HizHa The problem with asking Greg Lee to delete his answer is that he put effort into writing it that could be of use to other people besides yourself. What Alenanno is suggesting will mean that this question is no longer attached to your account in any way; your account will be shown as never having asked or interacted with this question. That's a good middle ground that lets you remove the association with this question that you're trying to, and it lets Greg Lee and the rest of the community keep this good answer around for future reference.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 21:38

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