The Fall and Rise of Universals on Relativization

Mark De Vries 1
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1University of Groningen

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


This article discusses linguistic universals concerning relative clause constructions, which are relatively well-studied, both by typologists and theoreticians. It turns out that several universal statements formulated in the past—e.g., in Downing’s (1978) seminal work— must be weakened to tendencies or less on the basis of present knowledge. Following Odden (2003), statistical universals are rejected for the reason that cross-linguistic statistics is inherently unreliable, and may have nonlinguistic causes. However, some absolute universals and universal implications concerning relativization still stand; moreover, some interesting new ones can be formulated. If these universals can be maintained, they constitute (indirect) hypotheses concerning the human language faculty, which need to find an explanation within a specific linguistic model.

Keywords: universals; tendencies; relative clauses



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