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April 20, 2020
April 20, 2020
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Parsing for complementizers that have filler-gap dependencies

Home » English Grammar & Linguistics » The SAP » Parsing for complementizers that have filler-gap dependencies

In the following examples, each modifying clause “contains a ‘gap,’ while the head noun is interpreted as the thing which fills this gap, making the sentence complete. . . . In English, this kind of “filler–gap” structure is also found in content (or wh-) questions and several other constructions, such as clefting and topicalization.” [1]

The underscore (_) represents the relationship, or filler-gap dependency, between the complementizer and a gap.

Relativizer (that) in topicalizations

The head-initialized antecedent (italicized) has a relativizer (bolded) that is the syntactic head of a full clause, the embedded clause (coloured amber).

  • “It’s really an important public health strategy that we have people thinking about_.”
  • “Yes, and I think that it’s something thatI had to find a way to understandas an adult.”

Complementizers (i.e., whatwherewhen, etc.) in wh-questions

The complementizer together with the embedded clause (coloured amber) performs the role of a complement, a subordinate clause that functions as the subject or the object of particular verbs.

  • Dell-Dell’s life was as what she would have imagined her septuagenarian years to be_. (The complement is an object relative clause, which has a gap.)
  • She sipped from a glass what looked like orange juice. (The complement is a subject relative clause: She sipped what looked like orange juice.)

A Harvard University paper by Wilcox, Ethan, et al. (2018) stated that “filler–gap dependency refers to a relationship between a filler, which is a wh-complementizer such as ‘what’ or ‘who’, and a gap, which is an empty syntactic position licensed by the filler.”[2]

SUMMARY/OBSERVATIONS: The first two sentences have a that-clause that functions as an appositive or what is known as an expletive because the that-clause does not serve a grammatical function. In the third sentence, there is a filler-gap dependency, wherein the wh-interrogative, or complementizer, introduces an embedded clause. The word what fills a gap created by the verb, i.e., to be what. And in the last sentence, the entire clause functions as a subject, i.e., She sipped what looked like orange juice.

Garie McIntosh
Garie McIntosh
My works include a trilogy that will be a boxed set of novels that begins with my currently published first novel called “What's in a Name,” a short story collection being completed, and a non-fiction educational project currently in progress. Additionally, I work daily on linguistic and grammatical content via my organization on the Microsoft 365 platform.

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