Unifying Japanese relative clauses: copy-chains and context-sensitivity


We offer a new, unified approach to the derivation and interpretation of head-external, head-internal, and heretofore understudied doubly-headed relative clauses in Japanese. Our proposal is motivated by new data on the interpretation of these different forms of relative clauses with quantificational heads, in different contexts. Head-internal and doubly-headed relative clauses are interpreted as definite descriptions with their quantificational head interpreted in their surface, relative-clause-internal positions. We show that the complex patterns of possible interpretations, as well as the shape of observed inter-speaker variation, are derived by interpreting definite descriptions using a maximal informativeness semantics and a simple assumption regarding the role of contextual information, which we call the Salient Sets Restriction.

Syntactically, we propose a novel DP head-raising derivation for relative clauses that takes advantage of the Copy Theory of movement and the late-merger of relative clauses. This allows for the unification of head-internal and doubly-headed relativization strategies with the familiar head-external form, which would otherwise not be possible. We believe this approach is suitable for head-raising relative clauses in other languages as well, including English. Our proposal avoids some complications of previous head-raising derivations, instead taking advantage of independently motivated mechanisms of copy-chain resolution at LF.

This article is part of the special collection: Internally-headed Relative Clauses


Japanese, relativization, head-internal relative clause, doubly-headed relative clause, Copy Theory, chain resolution, maximal informativeness, Salient Sets Restriction

How to Cite

Erlewine M. & Gould I., (2016) “Unifying Japanese relative clauses: copy-chains and context-sensitivity”, Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 1(1), p.51. doi: https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.174







Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (National University of Singapore)
Isaac Gould (University of Kansas)





Creative Commons Attribution 4.0


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This article has been peer reviewed.

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