If a language limits its relative clause heads to core arguments of a verb such that item 1 below is ungrammatical, it may become necessary within discourse to use an applicative to promote an auxiliary argument into object position as in item 2:

1) *  1 see Bill with the telescope that is on the hill
      "I see Bill with the telescope that is on the hill."

2)    1 see-APP the telescope that COP on the hill
      "I see with the telescope that is on the hill."

However, since this is getting done for syntactic reasons, it is not desirable to lose entirely the normal object. How can I reintroduce Bill to the sentence while maintaining the applicative construction that allows the telescope to be relativized?

1 Answer 1


I don't think there are any attested languages that limit the role that relative clause heads can have in the matrix clause. The accessibility hierarchy is a theory explaining the capabilities of various languages to produce relative clauses where the head has specific roles in the relative clause.

If we take your example and exchange the matrix and embedded clauses, you get the following examples. I'm changing the first example also to use a resumptive pronoun.

1a)  *The telescope that I see Bill with it is on the hill.

2a)   The telescope that I see-app is on the hill.

If you want to reintroduce the demoted argument Bill, you can use an adposition or a case. Suppose you reuse the preposition towards for this purpose.

2b)   The telescope that I see-app towards Bill is on the hill.

One interesting choice would be to use neither cases nor adpositions.

2c)    The telescope that I see-app Bill is on the hill.

Since the embedded clause already has a subject and obliques can't be relativized, that forces the interpretation of Bill as an oblique.

  • Aha. That's where I went wrong. Somehow I'd got it in my head that syntactic applicativization took place in the matrix clause. Now that you point out that that isn't the case, it seems so obvious.
    – A. R.
    May 6, 2020 at 2:24

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