August 27, 2015


In the academic world, writing is an exercise in objectivity. Yet, that’s not what observable from   many in real world. Sometimes they are indeed even very very poor. Soon just in a few days the new academic semester is to kick start for millions of students for their postsecondary education--certainly with the one and only universal university motto ‘more education more income’. Martha Kolln, who writes rhetorical grammar for academic studies, quotes:
An education is good for its own sake—not necessarily because you use it to make money. An education is a lifelong comfort to anyone who has one, and there’s no reason an educated person shouldn’t make a living with his hands. The notion that someone who works his with hands isn’t also working with his head is wrong. It’s possible to work with your head without moving a muscle, but it’s not possible to work with your muscles without using your head, too.
However, she asks students to revise the passage to include women among those educated people who can make a living with their hands.  Both inputs are certainly interesting.

To get back to my regular post and to those who check literature reviews in LangLing, my diary has a note for a comment on the recent Wikipedia post 'case assignment in fused relatives' this time, but as a few more other interesting things are to be included, my comments in this  will be perhaps next time.

About a decade or so, I had the same need and curiosity for understanding the nature of ‘pronominal’ in English and how it is applied in various syntactic domains. Since the outcome for a simple and strait answer was incidentally very poor at that time, i thought I should throw one, which had been eventually in Wikipedia for a Google search for some while until some years ago, at least to be for something rather than for nothing. Now there is however no such a thing to exhibit, likely for being edited and transferred for something else—a finest literature to be known to those who like academic literature.

Just a few short comments of mine, mostly on the pronominal literature, is shown in green under the passages shown in block letters, but I dare rather restrict myself from being political or sociopolitical in any part as my interest solely rests only on the language and linguistic approach to a literature review in this (the original source):      
In languages that have fused relatives where the relative words inflect for case, how does case assignment generally work? For example, I found a source that says in German, if the matrix and relative clauses assign the same case (or two different cases where there is syncretism), then use that inflection, otherwise look at the two cases assigned according to this order: Nominative - Accusitive - Dative - Genitive. If the relative clause assigns the case farther to the right, that case wins, but if the matrix clause assigns the case farther to the right, the construction is syntactically blocked. In English, there seem to be two camps: those who say the relative clause always governs, and those who say that conflict blocks the construction entirely in formal style (though informal style can always use "whoever", of course). So my question is a little open ended: is what I said above correct for German? What is the data for for English? (I understand there probably isn't a clear answer for English due to the moribund status of "whomever", but a survey of variation in actual usage should still be possible.) What was the rule in Latin? In Old English? In other languages where this issue arises?  2601:645:8101:54AA:B4AF:9577:4284:3EC7 (talk) 01:57, 9 August 2015 (UTC)
I imagine the lack of responses means everyone else is having as much trouble as I am figuring out what this means...could you give us some example sentences to help us understand? Adam Bishop (talk) 19:05, 9 August 2015 (UTC)

Sorry for being unclear. By "fused relative" I mean a construction like "what you want" in "what you want is impossible to get". These are sometimes also called "free relatives" or "nominal relatives". The word "what" doesn't inflect for case, but if it did the matrix clause (with verb "is") would indicate nominative while the relative clause (with verb "want") would indicate accusative. I'm asking how different languages resolve this conflict. In English it only comes up with "who(m)ever" - as in "I will tell who(m)ever asks", where "who(m)ever" is subject of ask but also head of a construction that is object of "tell". I'm more curious what the rule is in languages other than English (since English speakers don't really have a native intuition here). For example the source I found for German says *"Ich folge (wem/wen) ich bewundere" ("I follow whomever I adore") is ungrammatical with both dative "wem" and accusative "wen" because the matrix verb "folge" wants the dative while the relative verb "bewundere" wants the accusative, and the construction is syntactically blocked because the relative "loses" to the matrix. But "Wen Maria mag wird eingeladen" ("Who(m)ever Maria likes is invited") is grammatical because the relative clause selects accusative and the matrix clause selects nominative and accusative "beats" nominative when selected by the relative clause. I'm asking whether that's an accurate account of German and also how it works in other languages where this is an issue. (I did some research and it looks like - if I understand - Old English uses a special indeclinable word for fused relatives so maybe Old English isn't relevant here). 2601:645:8101:54AA:99C1:99FB:B2C8:162C (talk) 21:45, 9 August 2015 (UTC)

As for my judgment about grammaticality, I would quote Steven from below: Most of the time, I suspect these cases are driven by intuition, rather than pure prescription. And intuition can be flexible: as I described above, there are times I might choose to be more "correct", and other times I wish to sound less "pedantic". - the forms with added resumptive pronouns are always more "pedantic", while the fused ones are more marked; on a scale of 1-10, I would generally judge fused relatives at 8 for nominative case; 6-7 for accusative; 5 for dative (hard to find an example); 1-3 for other cases or mixed-case. And there are always idioms and set phrases which resist the analysis: a quite fine translation for the below-mentioned Samuel 25:11

I'm not sure that OP is right that there is no native intuition (or at least school instruction) in such matters. In OP's original case, I was taught very clearly that the correct answer would be "I will tell whoever asks." We did a lot of sentence diagramming in my high school freshman English class. For the purpose of selecting the correct pronoun there, the choice would be governed by the pronoun's position in the clause where it actually lives, which would be apparent from the diagram. The fact that the subordinate clause has the role of object in the main clause would be irrelevant to that. StevenJ81 (talk) 14:57, 10 August 2015 (UTC)

Similarly, in example above ("Whomever Maria likes is invited"), the immediate grammatical function of whomever is as direct object of the subordinate clause ("Maria likes whomever"), so the relative is in objective or accusative case—even though the subordinate clause as a whole serves as subject of the independent clause. StevenJ81 (talk) 15:27, 10 August 2015 (UTC)

These days, of course, most people in speech would start with whoever, and probably most people even in writing would do the same. Whom/whomever survives best these days (a) in more formal language and (b) where the word order seems to fit it more naturally. English rarely sees objects preceding subjects in everyday language or in prose writing, so it can be pretty difficult to convince people that whomever would be correct in this setting. And in speech, whomever would probably sound just. plain. pedantic. So even someone like me would use whoever in speech here if I need not to sound pedantic. To some extent, that sort of reasoning is why the language continues to evolve. I wouldn't be surprised if the prescription in Standard English will have changed by 20 years from now. StevenJ81 (talk) 15:35, 10 August 2015 (UTC)

School instruction isn't native intuition. I'm interested in a descriptive account in languages where case-marking in these situations is governed by syntactic constraints even in colloquial speech, so English isn't really relevant. The account that you were taught in school is problematic because it fails to explain how the verb number is syntactically controlled by the relative phrase (not just selected according to semantic factors), it fails to explain why preposition fronting is ungrammatical in fused relatives, and it fails to explain why fused relatives can appear as non-extraposed subjects in post-auxiliary position. (talk) 16:18, 10 August 2015 (UTC)

Look, I thought I responded to what you wrote above. If it left you with additional questions, it does not mean that what I was taught in school was problematic. It means that I had no idea whatsoever that the points you now raise were relevant to the answer. Either I am not enough of a professional linguist to understand you—and I'm not one—or you were not terribly clear in your communication—and you weren't. Enough said on that. I could probably answer at least the first point you raised, but since you have just said you are not interested in English, I'll break off here. StevenJ81 (talk) 17:32, 10 August 2015 (UTC)

Sorry, my tone may have seemed hostile which is not what I intended. What I meant was that I'm aware that the rule of agreement being controlled by the matrix clause is one of the common prescriptive positions. However my issue with that is that it is based on a theory of the proper analysis that says the function of the relative construction in the matrix clause is irrelevant, and importantly, this analysis is not reached based on the usage data but based on the assumption that there can be only one verb controlling the case. In all the languages other than English where this type of construction exists that have been discussed here, both verbs impose constraints on the case and the construction may be blocked entirely (requiring an overt head noun "anyone who(m)" instead of who(m)ever) in at least some cases of conflict. It's possible English is unique in that the matrix verb imposes no constraints at all, but I'm not aware that this position is well-supported by the data. My understanding is that there is great variation in prose even if we limit ourselves to the most respected authors. That is, actual usage is something of a mess here. I also may have overstated my lack of interest in English. To the extent the data of English usage is consistent, it is worth mentioning, I just don't expect that it will be consistent enough for a clear rule to emerge. I would be interested to know if there is statistical evidence that case-conflict is or is not typically avoided by rephrasing or alternation to non-fused relatives, but I understand such evidence would be a lot of work to produce. (talk) 18:58, 10 August 2015 (UTC)

I accept your apology. I'd probably agree with you that (a) English usage, especially colloquial/informal usage, is probably not consistent enough to analyze, and (b) it would be hard to produce the evidence, especially given (c) the "moribund" state of whom/whomever. I suspect, but would have a hard time proving, the following for English:
In formal English grammar, they way we learn it from a book, the matrix clause verb really has no impact on the case in the relative clause. I would have no way to know how unique that really is.
In less formal or colloquial use, there are "light" conflicts and "heavy" conflicts. A light conflict is a situation where the difference between the case demanded by the matrix verb and the case demanded by the relative verb differ only by a fairly simple and similar word substitution ("whoever"/"whomever"). Most of the time, I suspect these cases are driven by intuition, rather than pure prescription. And intuition can be flexible: as I described above, there are times I might choose to be more "correct", and other times I wish to sound less "pedantic". Those are instincts, too. The deminimus example of this is where there is no case difference at all, which is most of the time in English. (It's not unlike the subjunctive mood, which we were discussing here recently. Frequently, the subjunctive and indicative forms of verbs are the same in English, so there is no difference to parse.)
I think if the conflict is "heavy", then people restructure the sentence.
But these are just guesses. StevenJ81 (talk) 19:31, 10 August 2015 (UTC)

Slight caveat: I haven't quite worked through whether there are examples of where a potential case conflict of a fused relative could actually block a construction outright in English. I'm a native speaker, and maybe my brain instinctively assumes things like that don't exist. I am pretty confident that where a fused relative construction can exist, its case is governed entirely by the relative clause verb, not the matrix clause verb. StevenJ81 (talk) 21:52, 10 August 2015 (UTC)

A "true" case of blocking of a fused relative for case reasons in English would be difficult to find. In Standard Modern English, "who(m)ever" is the only word that both can have a fused relative function and inflects for case. And "whoever" is almost always acceptable in informal style, so blocking in the formal register would typically take the form of an informal-style "whoever" (or rephrasing) being mandatory. The only "evidence" of a blocked whomever would be one that sounds especially stilted, but usage of "who" is random enough that I would say it's more a matter of some usages being more common than others. In a brief comb over some examples it does seem to me like case-conflicting examples are a bit more rare than case-matching examples in pie es that make full use of "whom", though that could be explained for reasons other than "partial" blocking. In general, pied-piping is the only situation that rules out "who" in all registers (which is really just the result of a style conflict - pied-piping doesn't usually occur in informal style), but preposition-fronting isn't an option in fused relatives regardless of case issues, so it would be hard to construct a real blocking situation. (talk) 23:30, 10 August 2015 (UTC)


  1. It is necessary to emphasize this point in connection with the problem of perception for lack of prerequisite symbols in factual terminology since the fact that we are unable to describe the properties of sense content with great precision in everyday language. Sometimes they are sure philosophical, rather than linguistical, in order for making them convenient to give the solution for the problem in factual terminology with great precision.

    Your comments are still missing here. Maybe a display error.

    1. Due to the size of the post, this post has been now shortened as i asked him for consideration. He has removed all of his additional comments on this 'case assignment in fused relatives' post from Wikipedia.

  2. Anonymous25/9/15 21:32

    First I like to say that this is one of the posts I prefer the most among your posts for much needed clarity and sophistications. In ‘Case Assignment in Fused Relatives, no doubt you provided advance analyses than they are anywhere possible. Also to say that this provides maximum inputs in each area for reader specialties regardless of whether one wants read it in philosophy or politics or social media dialect or just in blogger journal. I do have however my doubt with the take that this be a hard written universal grammar.

    1. The CAIFR is a WP post copied for ‘Ubiquitous post’ here. This is why it seems to be a bit misleading with the author identities as to who wrote what. Apparently there are many posters with differing opinions.