Tough relatives in Franzen's Freedom

Abstract : A linguist reading Jonathan Franzen's latest family saga, Freedom, may be struck by the author's use of fairly complex relative constructions. Some examples are reproduced below (with clause boundaries and filler-gap relations indicated): (1) We're about persuading ten-year-old children to spend twenty-five dollars on a cool little silicone iPod casei [that [it costs a licensed Apple Computer subsidiary thirty-nine cents [to manufacture ___i]]]. (Jonathan Franzen, Freedom, London: Fourth Estate, 2010, p. 202) (2) As if she were speaking some sophisticated but dying aboriginal languagei [whichi [it was up to the younger generation (i.e., Joey) [to either perpetuate ___i or be responsible for the death of ___i]]]. (op. cit., p. 250) (3) There was an emptinessi at Patty's center [that [it was his lot in life [to do his best [to fill ___i with love]]]]. (op. cit., p. 304) The first two sentences, in particular, raise an interesting issue: the presence of an "it" which can be left out without affecting grammaticality. This it is not a resumptive pronoun but the 'dummy' subject in a clause which in traditional generative analyses is considered to be the non-transformed, underlying counterpart of a variant with a subordinate direct object raised to matrix subject position, as in sentences allowing so-called 'Tough movement' (Rosenbaum 1967; Postal 1971). Using the 410+ million word Corpus of Contemporary American English (cf. Davies 2009), we investigate whether such a relative clause with the gap being a non-raised subordinate object in an extraposed infinitival subject is at all common in language use generally. Searches for relative clauses involving 35 adjectives occurring in the 'Tough alternation' (e.g. ...a kind of faithi [whichi [it is dangerous [to destroy ___i in a democracy]]] / ...a kind of faithi [whichi/j is dangerous [to destroy ___j in a democracy]]), yielding ca. 150 instances, lead to the preliminary finding that the former variant is rather rare (7 instances only), especially with the subordinator that, and may actually be archaic. We provide a functional reason for the relative rarity of this variant. References Davies, Mark (2009). The 385+ Million Word Corpus of Contemporary American English (1990-2008+): Design, architecture, and linguistic insights. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 14(2), pp. 159-190. Postal, Paul M. (1971). Cross-Over Phenomena. New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston. Rosenbaum, Peter S. (1967). The Grammar of English Predicate Complement Constructions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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Contributor : Bert Cappelle <>
Submitted on : Saturday, February 11, 2012 - 11:31:54 AM
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Bert Cappelle. Tough relatives in Franzen's Freedom. 4th International Conference on the Linguistics of Contemporary English (ICLCE), Jul 2011, Germany. ⟨halshs-00669106⟩

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