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3.5.1 Subject and object relativisation

The relative clause is introduced by a relative pronoun, as in the following example:

Ju Poute, ju ätter dät Lieuwend ladt, is ääng.
the gate REL.FEM.SG after the life leads is narrow
The gate, which leads to life, is narrow.

In this example, the relative pronoun functions as a subject in the subordinate clause. Its antecedent functions as a subject in the superordinate clause.

[+]1. Homophony of relative pronoun and definite article

The relative pronoun used for subject and object relatives is identical in form to the definite article, in case the relative clause has an overt antecedent. The following table presents an overview of the relative pronoun for all combinations of number and gender.

Table 1
NOM die ju Dät do
NNOM dän ju Dät do

The table makes it clear that there is a gender distinction in the singular but not in the plural. (The case distinction in the masculine singular is discussed further below.) The following three examples illustrate gender agreement of the nominative relative pronoun in the singular, and the fourth example involves a case of plural agreement:

Die Mon, die fon ‘n uunrainen Jeest beseten waas.
the man REL.MSC by a unclean spirit possessed was
The man who was possessed by an unclean spirit.
Ju Moanskenskoar, ju touhoperonnen waas.
the people.mass REL.FEM together.run was
The crowd that had gathered.
Dät Bäiden dät deped wäide skäl.
the child REL.NTR baptised become shall
The child that was going to be baptised.
Wät sunt dät foar Wundere, do truch him geskjo!
what are that for miracles REL.PL through him happen
What kind of miracles are those, which take place through him!

The sentences above provide us with cases of subject relativisation. Furthermore, the table also makes it clear that the distinction between nominative and non-nominative is relevant only for the masculine singular. Two pairs of examples are given below to illustrate this distinction. The first pair below involves a (masculine) nominative relative pronoun, hence one functioning as subject, whereas the second pair below involves a (masculine) non-nominative relative pronoun, hence one functioning as object.

Die Mon, die dät goude Säid säidet, is die Moanskensuun.
the man who.NOM.MSC the good seed sows is the man.son
The man who sows the good seed, is the son of man.
Wee dän Moanske, die ze ferskeeldet.
woe the man who.NOM.MSC them causes
Woe to the man who causes them.
Dän Mon, dän dät grote Skip heerde.
the man who.NNOM.MSC the big ship owned
The man who owned the big ship.
Johannes, dän iek undhaudje liet, is apsteen.
Johannes who.NNOM.MSC I behead let is raised
John, whom I had beheaded, is risen.

The form of the relative pronoun depends on its syntactic function in the lower clause, the clause which it introduces. The examples given provide us with cases both of subject and object relativisation.

[+]2. Variation in the neuter relative pronoun

Neuter antecedents testify to variation in the relative pronoun. Instead of the relative pronoun that is homophonous to the neuter article, we may also encounter a relative pronoun that is homophonous to the interrogative pronoun wät ‘what’ (and which in other contexts functions as an existential quantifier for degrees, hence a low degree marker). An example of the variation possible between the two neuter relative pronouns is given below:

Iek roupe um dät Skäip an, wät / dät Jie ferkoopje wollen.
I call about the sheep to what / that you sell want
I'm calling (you up) about the sheep that you want to sell.

In addition, wät ‘what’ is used to introduce non-restrictive relative clauses.

Ju Buukwete, [wät man säärm bruukte], ju heelt man tourääch; dät uur, dät wude ferkoped.
the buckwheat what one self used that held one back the other that became sold
The buckwheat that one needed oneself was held back; the rest was sold.
Keem oaber die Fäind fon buten, fon froamde Loundere, [wät neen Germanen wieren], so studen morere Foulksstamme ap un ferdreeuwen gemeensoam dän Fäind.
came but the enemy of outside of foreign lands what no Germanics were then stood several tribes up and out.drove together the enemy
But if the enemy came from outside, from foreign countries, that were not Germanic people, then several tribes stood up and drove out the enemy together.
‘n Stede, [wät wied genouch fon do Huze owe waas].
a place what far enough of the houses off was
A place that was far enough away from the houses.

If the antecedent is an indefinite pronoun such as niks ‘nothing’, wät must always be used. An example is given below:

Aal [wät mienen is], dät is ook dienen.
all that mine is that is also dine
All that is mine, is yours as well.

If the antecedent is a clause, wät must always be used as well. In that case, a non-restrictive use of the relative clause is necessarily involved. An example is given below:

Inne lääste Tied wierst du oaber besunners stil, wät mie gans oafter läip dul moakede.
in.the last time was you but especially quite which me very often very angry made
But recently, you were especially quite, which made me quite often very angry.

The use of the neuter interrogative as a non-restrictive relative is also found in West Frisian, roughly in the same sort of sentences. Incidentally, wät ‘what’ is also used as an exclamative marker in various constructions, a subject which merits further research.

[+]3. An optional marker for subject relatives

The example below involves a subject relative, which is interesting because of the pronoun deer ‘there/it’.

Hie spitsede de Ore as ‘n Kat, die deer grummeljen heert.
he pricked the ears as a cat who.MSC.NOM there thundering hears
He pricked up his ears like a cat who heard it thundering.

This pronoun tends to show up frequently in subject relatives (the relative pronoun functions as subject in the embedded clause). It can also remain absent, so it is optional. The pronoun is in fact an R-pronoun, and it will be glossed as R where this is useful. Some examples are given below:

Wie häbe joa juust so 'n Hone, die deer so lät.
we have yes just such.a rooster who R so looks
We have a rooster that looks like this.
So ‘n Soarte, ju deer boalde buppe de Gruund uut woakst.
such a kind which R barely above the soil out grows
Such a kind as barely grows above the ground.
Do Huze, do deer nu aal ferannerd un nit moor epen sunt.
the houses which R now all changed and not more open are
The houses that have all changed and are no longer open.
Do deer jegerje wollen.
who R hunt want
Those who want to hunt.
Älk, die der man wiel.
each who R but wants
Anybody who wants to.

The R-pronoun seems to have developed into a marker of subject extraction, in a way that is strongly reminiscent of similar phenomena in German. One gets the impression that there are certain speakers who prefer to use the R-pronoun with subject relativisation, whereas other speakers simply don’t use it. Definiteness of the antecedent doesn’t seem to play a role, on the basis of the examples collected here. It would be interesting to know whether this optional use of the R-pronoun with subject relativisation is also found in Low German.

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