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

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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
Garie started out in administration in the fields of healthcare, project management and database development. Since 2016, he has been working to further develop himself as a fiction writer while working on his English grammatical and linguistic pursuits. He has developed his website,, to share the meaningful wins throughout his evolution. Therefore, this is a way of sharing his successes as a writer and promoting his professional development through insightful and educational content. Also, through his own organization operated on the Microsoft Azure platform in collaboration with Microsoft Education, Garie utilizes Microsoft applications to develop and formalize pedagogical solutions that help him produce manuscripts that are highly readable and semantically sound. These solutions encompass both the linguistic and the grammatical.

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