The matching effect in resumption: A local analysis based on Case attraction and top-down derivation


In this paper we analyze a hitherto unstudied matching effect in resumptive relatives. In some languages where gaps and resumptives are in complementary distribution, the choice between the two strategies depends on the Case of the head noun: in Swiss German, the focus of our study, dative relativization requires resumptives; however, the resumptive is omitted if the head noun bears dative as well. This non-local dependency poses a serious challenge to local derivational bottom-up theories of syntax. We argue that a local solution is possible if the distribution of gaps and resumptives is reinterpreted in terms of Case attraction and the derivation unfolds top-down. Consequently, the relevant piece of information, the Case of the head noun, is available on the operator so that the choice between gaps and resumptives can be made without recourse to non-local devices. Gap relatives obtain in configurations where the Case attraction derivation converges while resumptives occur as a repair in derivations where Case attraction leaves a Case-probe unchecked. The matching effect falls out naturally as a subcase of Case attraction.

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  1. 1.

    Examples without references were constructed by the second author, who is a native speaker of Zurich German.

  2. 2.

    Dative is the only oblique Case in this variety of German, genitive has been lost. Other oblique relations involve prepositions which given that Swiss German prohibits preposition stranding require resumption as well.

  3. 3.

    The following abbreviations are used in the glosses: 1/2/3 = person, acc = accusative, aor = aorist, C = complementizer, dat = dative, f = feminine, fut = future, gen = genitive, imp = imperative, m = masculine, nom = nominative, p = plural, prs = present, pfv = perfective, s = singular.

  4. 4.

    In Swiss German, resumption in islands is fully grammatical (unlike intrusive resumption in English, cf. Chao and Sells 1983). The distribution of SU/DO-resumptives in Swiss German is not gradient but categorical: they are ruled out in local relativization but required in all other contexts. This includes regular long-distance relativization across a finite clause-boundary, which functions as a barrier for relativization (while non-finite complementation requires gaps):

    1. (i)

    See Salzmann (2006) and Riemsdijk (1989, 2008) for more examples and discussion.

  5. 5.

    In Croatian, the matching effect with resumptives only occurs with direct objects but not with oblique relations. We have no account for this difference. Furthermore, according to Gračanin-Yuksek (2013:29, 39), there is a certain optionality in matching contexts. Hebrew and Swiss German also allow for deletion of preposition+resumptive if the head noun is governed by the same preposition. In what follows, we will abstract from this, not the least because PP-matching—as in free relatives—is subject to much stricter conditions; usually, matching is only felicitous if the predicates are identical.

  6. 6.

    For reasons of space, we will restrict ourselves to headed relative clauses. Attraction and matching are also found in free relative clauses, but seem to show somewhat different properties. We abstract away from more fine-grained cross-linguistic differences and various preferences that have been reported in the literature, e.g., that attraction in Ancient Greek is most frequent with accusatives. An interesting exception to the hierarchy generalization is Nez Perce, where nominative, accusative and ergative can be attracted to each other (Amy Rose Deal, p.c.).

  7. 7.

    For ease of representation all tree diagrams used in this paper will be strictly right-branching, even in OV languages. For reasons of space, the projection of the functional head v is omitted in most tree diagrams; as discussed in fn. 19 below, V is the assigner of accusative and dative Case.

  8. 8.

    As shown in Plank (1995), Merchant (2006), and Assmann et al. (2014), languages use different strategies in the morphological realization of abstract Case stacking. The realization of the last Case is just one option.

  9. 9.

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing this out; for more discussion of secondary predicates, see Sect. 3.2.3 below.

  10. 10.

    We would like to emphasize that, as in checking approaches in general, the pre-specified Case value can be chosen freely. If there is no corresponding probe feature, the derivation simply crashes.

  11. 11.

    For independent motivation for the concept of matching, see Anagnostopoulou (2005) and Richards (2008) on PCC-effects.

  12. 12.

    The same holds for phi-features, which we omit here. This doubling of features is not a peculiarity of top-down derivation but a general property of checking approaches to concord within DP, see Georgi and Salzmann (2011:2083, fn. 25).

  13. 13.

    The intuition that the head noun and the relative operator have to communicate somehow can be found in several places in the literature, but the precise properties of the relationship are hardly ever made explicit. Rather, the generalization is only rephrased in prose but not technically implemented. Representative examples are Harbert (1983:246) who proposes “that case is first assigned to NP […] and is transmitted by attraction from that head to the relative pronoun in COMP, subject to a hierarchical restriction …” and Gračanin-Yuksek (2013:43, fn. 18) according to whom “…attraction involves an operation in which the case features of the internal head are copied onto the external head” but admits that “the details of this process remain mysterious”.

  14. 14.

    As far as we can tell, our argument is independent of a particular theory of relative clauses. All of what follows is certainly compatible with the matching analysis, see e.g. Sauerland (1998) and Salzmann (2006). We refrain from illustrating our derivations by means of the head-raising analysis because it involves certain complications with respect to DP-internal concord, which we feel would detract from the central points we want to make.

  15. 15.

    If the noun additionally takes arguments or modifiers, RCs are attached to a projection of N. Given Bare Phrase Structure, selectional and probe-features will be present on the relevant label so that they c-command the RC. We assume a general rule that optionally assigns to an N a structure-building feature for the relative clause and a probe feature for Case-Agree with the operator (a metarule in the sense of GPSG, see Gazdar et al. 1985). While agreement in phi-features between N and the operator could also result from anaphoric agreement, Case attraction has to be ensured by a grammatical operation.

  16. 16.

    Our system seems to encounter problems with inverse attraction (attractio inversa), where it appears that the embedded Case is imposed onto the head noun. However, there is good reason to believe that the construction involves a different structure (as pointed out, e.g., in Pittner 1995; Bianchi 2000; Riemsdijk 2006): in most examples of inverse attraction, there is a demonstrative/resumptive pronoun in the matrix clause (with matrix Case) resuming the head noun. This suggests that the construction rather represents a correlative or left-dislocation structure (for potential counter-examples see Grosu 1994:127 and Wood et al. to appear).

  17. 17.

    See Gračanin-Yuksek (2013) for a related idea: she proposes that Croatian relative clauses involve inverse attraction (the Case-features of the internal head somehow percolate to the external head of the RC), but in fact she assumes an identity criterion that is more reminiscent of matching.

  18. 18.

    The present case illustrates a morphology-syntax mismatch. In syntax, nominative and accusative behave the same (with respect to attraction), but morphologically they are distinguished; in Swiss German, the distinction is restricted to the personal pronoun paradigm. But in other languages like Modern Greek, where in free relatives nominative and accusative can be attracted to each other, the two Cases are morphologically differentiated both in pronominal and nominal paradigms. Given our syntactic approach to attraction, the two Cases must be represented by exactly the same set of privative Case features. To capture the morphological difference, we propose that exponents can be sensitive to the category of the head that checks Case on the DP, i.e. v/V vs. T (see Pesetsky and Torrego 2001). For concreteness’ sake, we assume that DPs start out with an additional category feature [uF] that is checked against the categorial feature of the Case-checker. Vocabulary items can then refer to this feature. Note that this [uF] is not a proper Case-feature but a categorial feature that is checked as a by-product of Case-checking. Consequently, it does not count for the computation of subset relations and does not prevent matching. As pointed out to us by Klaus Abels, in Swiss German configurations with personal pronouns as heads, we predict gaps under nominative/accusative mismatches because the Cases are syntactically the same. This prediction is borne out:

    1. (i)

    Another morphology-syntax mismatch arises with syncretisms, which can resolve mismatches: for instance, German free relatives normally require identity between MC- and RC-Case; however, if the wh-pronoun was is used, which is syncretic for nominative and accusative, a Nom-Acc mismatch is tolerated. Syncretism effects have also been documented for Case attraction (Grosu 1994:126) and matching in resumption (see Salzmann 2006:353ff. for Swiss German and Gračanin-Yuksek 2013:29f. for Croatian). The obvious solution given our syntactic approach is that the features of the wh-phrase are modified during the derivation by means of Enrichment (see Müller 2007 for this concept). Concretely, a wh-phrase bearing nominative would be enriched with another Case feature (leading to the representation of the accusative) after Case-checking with N. Enrichment is restricted to certain morpho-syntactic contexts (it only applies to neuter wh-pronouns in German). This would basically be the analogue of the post-syntactic impoverishment rules adopted for the same purpose in Assmann (2014).

  19. 19.

    The assumption that object Case is not assigned by the head which projects the theta-position of the external argument but by a lower head (see e.g. Harley 2009 for this assumption) is necessary in our approach for the following reason: in a language like Swiss German where nominative and accusative are represented by the same set of features, the subject could discharge the v-Case under matching when it is moved to SpecvP. This would leave no Case-probe for the object (especially if introduced in VP), leading to a crash of the derivation. This problem does not arise if the object Case is checked by a lower head into whose projection the subject does not move. Nor does it arise in languages where the object Case contains a proper superset of the features of the nominative, as in the languages discussed in Sect. 3.2.1.

  20. 20.

    One could imagine that the operator actually moves into the projection of the resumptive so that a Big-DP-structure arises, see Boeckx (2003). However, given that the analysis of resumption in islands in Sect. 4.2 below is incompatible with a Big-DP-structure (because the operator does not reach the theta-position), a uniform analysis requires the absence of a Big-DP structure here as well. Consequently, the operator stops in a position above its theta-position; the result is thus a hybrid movement/base-generation analysis. While this may seem strange at first sight, this is actually an instance of partial movement; similar assumptions can be found in Guilliot (2006:1905) and Sells (1984:330). For thematic licensing, see fn. 28.

  21. 21.

    As discussed in Salzmann (2013) there is both dialectal and inter-speaker variation with respect to dative relativization. In some dialects/idiolects, gap relatives are available outside of the matching configuration. These gap relatives can be accounted for if there is no Case-Agree between N and the operator: rather, the operator can be specified for dative and check the embedded Case probe.

  22. 22.

    Since the link between operator and resumptive can span island boundaries and since, as we will show below, there is no movement into islands, binding cannot involve Agree; rather, as with variable binding, c-command is sufficient. Resumptives generally correspond to regular pronouns independently available in the language, cf. Asudeh (2005, 2012); they are usually drawn from the weakest paradigm (clitic/weak pronouns), a preference which can be related to economy, see e.g. Pesetsky (1998).

  23. 23.

    As shown in Spyropoulos (2011), inherent accusatives in Modern Greek cannot be attracted even if the matrix Case is more oblique (genitive). This can be accounted for if inherent accusatives are PPs underlyingly and hence constitute islands (cf. Landau 2010). Consequently, the RelP cannot move into the PP and enter Case-Agree with P; instead, as correctly predicted under our approach, a resumptive is inserted as a repair. See Sect. 4.2 for details about island derivations. We thank an anonymous reviewer for raising this important issue.

  24. 24.

    Our proposal that in Swiss German RelOP is Case-marked runs counter to the generalization established in Merchant (2004) according to which operators that bind resumptives (in islands) are always Case-invariant (often zero). Our approach predicts that operators that bind resumptives can bear Case. However, since operators that co-occur with resumptives are silent in most languages for independent reasons, the prediction is difficult to test.

  25. 25.

    Note that this problem is even more serious if Case-Agree between the head noun and RelP is handled at PF (as in the PF-approaches to Case attraction discussed in Sect. 2) since the crucial information about the Case of the head noun becomes available even later.

  26. 26.

    We thus assume that numerations are balanced from the start. As a consequence, initial numerations where there is an argument missing will not be submitted to the derivation. Phase Balance then keeps checking the balance during the derivation. Crucially, derivations can become unbalanced, e.g., if an operator gets stuck outside of an island. Repair by resumption is thus strongly restricted.

  27. 27.

    In a language like Swiss German where nominative and accusative are not distinguished, one could in principle also merge the other, non-resumptive argument present in the numeration in SpecTP. The resumptive would then be merged as a direct object, leading to object relativization. In languages where the Cases are distinct, the Case values on the DPs determine where they can be merged as Case-checking requires identical features.

  28. 28.

    Unlike in non-island contexts, it is the resumptive and not the operator that checks the D θ -feature in island-contexts. This implies that one of the two elements does not receive a theta-role in the syntax. We assume that this element is thematically-licensed through binding; recall that the operator binds the resumptive (which also ensures agreement in phi-features) so that the two share a theta-role. Note that this way of thematic licensing is an independent property of base-generation orthogonal to the bottom-up/top-down distinction. Our approach implies that thematic licensing does not involve checking of uninterpretable features on DPs; rather, thematic interpretation is the result of structural configurations.

  29. 29.

    The proposal that resumption in island contexts largely involves base-generation while resumption in non-island contexts involves movement (cf. also Aoun et al. 2001 and Bianchi 2004) seems to predict reconstruction asymmetries. However, given the data in Guilliot and Malkawi (2006) and the proposal that reconstruction under resumption (in islands) can be modeled under the NP-ellipsis theory of resumption, movement vs. base-generation do not necessarily make different predictions with respect to reconstruction. One would probably expect the absence of reconstruction into intermediate positions in the island case (see also Rouveret 2008:186), but since these facts are extremely subtle and hard to substantiate empirically, we will not pursue this issue any further.


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Earlier versions of this research were presented at the University of Leipzig (March 2013, October 2014), at the EGG summer school in Debrecen (August 2014), at CGSW 29 in York (September 2014), at the University College London (February 2015), at the workshop on obligatoriness at TbiLLC 2015 in Tbilisi (September 2015) and at the Syntax and Semantics Colloquium in Paris (October 2015). We thank the audiences for helpful feedback, in particular Klaus Abels, Elena Anagnostopoulou, Rajesh Bhatt, Erich Groat, Fabian Heck, Anke Himmelreich, Winnie Lechner, Gereon Müller, Ad Neeleman, Andrew Nevins, Ivy Sichel, and Philipp Weisser. Furthermore, we are very grateful to Marika Lekakou for her help with the Greek data and to our Swiss German-speaking informants. Finally, we thank the handling editor Jason Merchant and three anonymous NLLT reviewers for their valuable comments. The usual disclaimers apply. This research has been supported by the DFG-grant GRK 2011, the ANR-grants ANR-10-LABX-0087 IEC and ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL* (Georgi) as well as the SNSF-grant PA00P1_136379/1 and the DFG-grant SA 2646/1-1 (Salzmann).

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Correspondence to Martin Salzmann.

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Georgi, D., Salzmann, M. The matching effect in resumption: A local analysis based on Case attraction and top-down derivation. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 35, 61–98 (2017).

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  • Relative clauses
  • Resumption
  • Case attraction
  • Locality
  • Top-down derivation
  • Matching
  • Hierarchy effects
  • Swiss German