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Today, we have a barely controlled, but good, discussion of relative clauses.

David’s presentation on the Defiance langs is on YouTube.

Links and Resources:


Email from Logan:

Thanks for the shout-out, guys. I just listened to your plea for more
feedback in episode 71 and figured I ought to finally respond to that.
So, here are some more details on my lexicography project.

The project right now is called LexTerm, and aims to provide a bridge
between termbases (primarily used for technical translation) and
general dictionaries. That particular feature is aimed mainly at
translators. What I will get credit for this semester is essentially
being able to import and export TBX termbase files and view the
entries either as terminological entries or as lexical entries in a
dictionary (thus assisting in generating termbases from existing
multilingual dictionaries and generating dictionaries from existing
termbases), so that is what I am focused on until January, at which
point I may or may not continue with the research internship to
continue developing more features. However, the whole project will be
Free and Open Source, and my academic credit depends only on the
project getting done by some means, not on who actually writes the
code, so I’m free to let other people work on it and start adding
additional features even before my internship is over.

The lexicography half is pitched as assisting field linguists, and
that actually happens to be true, not *just* an excuse to work on
conlanging, but I expect the features desired by either group to
overlap extensively.

If anybody’s interested in helping out, I would first suggest looking
up information on TBX Term Base eXchange format
( as well as LMF Lexical Markup
Framework (, as those are the
existing standards that I’m basing this work on. I’ll be putting the
project up on GitHub for easier collaboration eventually, but in the
meantime potential contributors are free to e-mail me at

23 Responses to “Conlangery #72: Relative Clauses”

  1. Pá mamūnám ontā́ bán

    David sounded a bit surprised that “mgeni” (pl: “wageni”) can mean both “guest” and “stranger” in Swahili, interestingly the Russian “гость” (“guest”), English “guest”, “host”, “hostile” and Latin “hostis” (“enemy” or “stranger”) all come from the PIE “*gʰóstis” (“stranger”).

      • Roman Rausch

        I’ve recorded 3 greetings already and still could do one in Russian if you’re interested, but then I’m completely dry.
        Another idea would be to use some dead languages.

        • admin

          Could you tell me which languages of yours I haven’t done, so I can search my inbox. It is entirely possible I have missed a greeting or so if you sent multiple greetings in the same email.

  2. Aaron


    Guys, sort your German grammar out!

    The grammatically standard version of what David was trying to say is “der Mann, DEM ich das Buch gegeben habe.” The relative pronoun in all cases except Genitive is identical to the definite article. So you “die Frau, DIE mit dem Kind spielt, heißt Jane.”

    Case of the relative pronoun follows its role in the subordinate clause, similar to the Russian example Mike gave. “Der Mann, den du siehst, heißt Günter.”

    For genitive, there are two special relative pronouns corresponding to the English word “whose”, “dessen” (for masculine or neuter possessors) and “deren” (for feminine or plural possessors). Interestingly (I think), Spanish has a similar thing (cuy@(s)) but the gender matches the possessed, not the possessor.

    Regards word order, in a relative clause the finite verb is always last.

    Love the show, keep it up (and learn some more German) 😉

    • admin

      I sould note that Spanish cuyo follows the same general pattern of the other genitive pronouns, where the pronoun agrees in gender and number with the possessed noun. (True, mi, tu and su do not gain gender agreement, but postnominal forms mio, tuyo, and suyo do.) Of course, as we noted in the podcast, relativization of the possessor is not terribly common outside of Indo-European.

      • Esploranto

        Exactly. And that’s because it is ultimately “de quién” and so acts as the other possessive adjectives, tuyo (de ti), suyo (de él/ella), etc.

        A funny thing happens in Croatian and many other languages where you have a 3rd person feminine and masculine and their possessives also mark the gender of what’s possessed. So you have poss-MASC-MASC or poss-FEM-FEM. It’d be like having in Spanish “suoyo/suoya” and “suayo/suaya” hehe.

        Love the show!

        • Chickenduck

          A lot of regional varieties of spoken German also ditch the genitive relative pronoun entirely, and just use the dative version instead (this matches a tendency in German for the genitive case to only really be used in formal contexts – in daily speech it’s usually replaced by dative constructions).

          So the English phrase “I know a guy whose girlfriend speaks French” could be translated in these two manners:

          Formal (what most Germans would consider correct): “Ich kenne einen Mann, dessen Freundin Französisch kann.”

          Informal (most Germans would peg this as sounding either uneducated or dialectal, but you do sometimes hear it): Ich kenne einen Mann, DEM die Freundin Französisch kann.”

          Note that in the second example, they’d add the definite article to the subject in the relative clause.

  3. Esploranto

    I would have loved for you to mention the relative clause in Hebrew which uses the prefix she- to my understanding and how you can use a prefix for that. Also I think Japanese has great ideas for different odd ways of formulating a relative clause. Cool.

    To David: It’d have been a treat to see how Castithan or Irathient mark the relative clause. Also about that, I couldn’t help but wondering… did you think of the word “rejo” for “sport” first or did you actually think of all the roots and proto-language words and came up with *raidi which you then transformed into “rejo”? How does your process work in this regard? Or is it a mixture?

    Best wishes! Great show!

  4. MBR

    Aw, nuts, I already used word order changes to mark voice in Hra’anh.

    And my favorite SOV clause in German is from a stanza of Waldesgespräch (Eichendorff):
    “Groß ist der Männer Trug und List,
    Vor Schmerz mein Herz gebrochen ist,
    Wohl irrt das Waldhorn her und hin,
    O flieh! Du weißt nicht, wer ich bin.”

    Just beautiful!

    • Chickenduck

      Beautiful poetry, but not a single SOV clause to be seen!!

      The lines are:

      imp! S-V, int-S-V

      In fact, there isn’t a single O to be seen in the stanza, unless you’re counting the genitive plural “der Männer”, which isn’t a direct object.

      • MBR

        Whatever. I was eyeing “mein Herz gebrochen ist” as a verb-final clause; I didn’t take the time to analyze it.

  5. Roman Rausch

    1. Here is an interesting paper by Bernard Comrie who argues that relative clauses in East Asian languages work in a different way compared to European:
    In my own words I would say that they form loose compounds with the head noun and their relationship is deduced with the help of pragmatics. Comrie gives an example of a Japanese sentence which is ungrammatical by itself, but becomes grammatical when tied to the commonly known story of the dog Hachiko.

    2. As far as Indo-European goes, I find the Gothic relative pronouns very interesting: They are formed by agglutinating the complementizer ei (pronounced [i:]) to a demonstrative pronoun: sa manna ‘this man’, manna saei… ‘the man who…’. What’s interesting is that ei can be combined with 1st and 2nd person pronouns to relativize them just as easily: ikei ‘I who’, þuei ‘you who’.

  6. Kraamlep

    My Conlangery-inspired language Frixàð uses a pair of markers, like bookends (or brackets), to mark relative clauses. They are “ek” and “et” (the latter also serves as a conjunction and as an ending marker to certain other subordinate clauses, but that’s not important here). Example, from the greeting in show 60-something:

    Alifa ruið! He iðu Konlaneri, h-podbirlax ek ju-mia xenteðl uz ju-h-kizul ek xef xentiros hen et ii et.

    Ali-fa ruið!
    face.ALL mutual

    He iðu-0 Konlaneri,
    be.3SG this-[ABS] [name]

    h-podbirlax-0 ek ju-mia xent-eð-l
    DEF-podcast-[ABS] REL» ABL-language(G2) create-PASTADJ-PL

    uz ju-h-kizu-l
    and ABL-DEF-person-PL

    ek xef xent-ir-os hen et ii et.
    REL» 4PL.G2.ABS create-PRSPTCP-3PL.G2.OBJ be.3PL «REL talk.3SG «REL

    As you can see, relative clauses can be nested.

    Does any natlang do this, i.e. mark the start and end of relative clauses?

  7. Vítor De Araújo

    Stray comment from the future: Spoken Brazilian Portuguese pretty much killed “cujo/cuja(s)” (whose). Instead, a sentence like “The man whose sister speaks Volapük came here today” is expressed as “o homem que a irmã fala Volapük veio aqui hoje” (“the man which/that the sister speaks Volapük came here today”).

    Note that Portuguese (standard or otherwise) often uses an article where English would use a possessive pronoun (e.g., “machuquei a mão” (“[I] hurt the hand”)).

  8. Melvar

    Lojban certainly does have relative clauses. You make them by following the meat of your noun phrase (such as nominalizer+verb) with the particle poi or noi (for a restrictive or nonrestrictive relative clause, respectively) followed by an ordinary clause in which the pronoun ke'a refers to the head of the relative clause. At the end one places ku'o if necessary (it seldom is). ke'a is usually elided, in which case it is assumed to be in the first unspecified slot in the clause. So one might give “The man I saw yesterday” as “le prenu poi mi viska ca lo prulamdei”, but “The man whose sister I saw yesterday” as “le prenu poi mi viska le mensi be ke’a ca lo prulamdei”, i.e. “the person that I see the sister of them=head during a yesterday”.

    As a side note, you can’t say the equivalent of “this book” in Lojban, because demonstratives are exclusively pronouns (in proximal, medial, and distal flavors). So you have to say “ti poi cukta” i.e. “this that is-a-book”, using a small relative clause.


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