SLE 2022: Complementation and relativization

Call for papers

This workshop focuses on clausal complements and relative clauses. What we would like to investigate is the properties of these two types of constituents from the point of view of their subordinators (e.g., complementizers and relativizers) and of their selectors (if any) in order to see if they can be reduced to one and the same phenomenon or not. 

The workshop has been accepted for the SLE conference (University of Bucharest, Romania), 24-27 August 2022:


We invite you to submit a 500-word abstract in Easychair using the following link:, with a reference to the 3rd Call for papers  (guidelines about what abstracts should contain), and to the Submission guidelines (practical information about how to submit them).

As you are submitting a Workshop abstract, you should select our workshop (Complementation and relativization).


The deadline for abstract submission in Easychair is 15 January 2022.


It will not be possible to include any other abstract after this deadline. Please also note that submitters have to be SLE members to submit an abstract. For SLE membership, please go to Abstracts submitted by non-members will not be considered.


Lena Baunaza,b

Tabea Ihsanea,b

Tania Paciaronia,c

(aUniversity of Zurich, bUniversity of Geneva, cLudwig Maximilian University of Munich)

Confirmed invited speakers

Adam Ledgeway (University of Cambridge)

Anna Roussou (University of Patras)

Description of the Workshop and Research questions


Subordination, complement clauses, relative clauses, morphosyntax, semantics/pragmatics


The question of the (syntactic) status of complement and relative clauses is an old one (see a.o. Klima 1964). Can we reduce these clauses to one type (and if yes, which one) or should we keep them separate? What about their subordinator (e.g., that in English)? Is it the same in both structures, or are they different? These are some of the on-going debates w.r.t to the phenomenon of complementation that we would like to refresh, with speakers from different schools of thoughts, working on a wide range of languages.

This workshop focuses on clausal complements and relative clauses. What we would like to investigate is the properties of these two types of constituents from the point of view of their subordinators (e.g., complementizers/relativizers) and of their selectors (if any) to see if they can be reduced to one and the same phenomenon or not.

In French, que can appear in clausal complements and relative clauses. This observation (followed by theoretical reasoning) lead Kayne (1976) to conclude that the complementizer que and relative que should be considered as instantiations of the same item, an analysis that extends to the English subordinator that (i.e., complementizer that is relativizer that). Kayne (2014) further claims that this subordinator is a special case of Dem(onstrative), i.e., a determiner-like element (see Kayne 1994 for preliminary ideas in that direction; Aboh 2005 on factives in Gbe; Arsenijevic 2009 for English/Serbo-Croatian; Sportiche 2011 for French). In a similar vein, Manzini/Savoia (2003, 2011) argue that the Italian complementizer, relativizer and interrogative che (‘that, that, what respectively) are all nominal elements, i.e., elements of the same category, but with different distributions (see Roussou 2010 for similar conclusions about Modern Greek subordinators). This path of research has led to claim that complement clauses and relative clauses should be reduced to one and the same phenomenon (Kayne 1976, 2014; Manzini/Savoia 2003, 2011; Arsenijević 2009; Roussou 2010).

Yet, the empirical evidence from multiple declarative complementizer systems shows a great wealth of (micro)variation concerning the form of subordinators, their syntax and their semantics (see, e.g., Baunaz 2015, 2016, 2018 about Romance and Balkan languages). Based on the comparative analysis of complement clauses in southern Italian dialects, many with a dual-complementizer system, Ledgeway (2000, 2005, 2016 inter alia, 2015, 2020 for a parameter hierarchy approach) argues for an alternance of two complementizer positions, possibly lexicalized, in accordance with a realis vs. irrealis distinction. See also Greco (2012, 2014) for the relationship between alternating complementizers and pragmatic factors in Latin texts. Moreover, Ledgeway argues that this binary opposition results from a ternary one, attested in the Greek and Romance varieties of the Extreme South, due to the loss of the factive complementizer function. Nonetheless, this complementizer is still maintained in its function as relativizer alongside the declarative complementizer. Since the loss of the factive complementizer function does not presuppose the loss of its relativizing functions, these data suggest that complement and relative structures are distinct.

Cross-linguistically, finite declarative complementizers are often identical to words of other categories (see Baunaz/Lander 2017, 2018 for cross-categorial syncretism with complementizers). In addition to the nominal category mentioned above, it is often formally identical to a verbal quotative marker (e.g., grammaticalization of the verb say), itself often identical to a verb (e.g., say, see Franco 2012 for Akkadian; Lord 1993 for Twi/Ewe/Engenni (Niger-Congo); Donohue 1999 and Klamer 2000 for Buru/Tukang Besi (Austronesian); Knyazev 2016 for Kalmyk (Mongolic); Chappell 2008 for Mandarin (Sinitic), a.o.). Also, some languages can display verbal and nominal complementizers (cf. English that (nominal) and like (verbal), see Rooryck 2000, Brook 2014 a.o).

Subordinators and their cross-categorial forms can be understood in light of their diachrony and grammaticalization paths. Noonan (2007) claims that they are often (historically) derived from pronouns, conjunctions, adverbs, adpositions/case markers, and verbs: e.g., English that and its Germanic cognates come from a demonstrative (see Ferraresi 1991, 1997; Kiparsky 1995; Longobardi 1991; Roberts/Roussou 2003; Noonan 2007); Romance que/che are reflexes of the Spoken Latin complementizer and relativizer que, replacing Latin quod (on this much debated question see Eufe 2010); some complementizers derive from verbs of saying, from the verb give, or from verbs of resemblance (see, a.o., Heine/Kuteva 2002, on different grammaticalization paths of complementizers cross-linguistically (from verbs or other categories)).

That subordinators often have the same form as words of other categories is not universal. Broader cross-linguistic comparisons show that languages may distinguish between complementizers and/or relativizers and/or wh-words: e.g., Swedish has three different words (complementizer att ‘that’ vs. relative som ‘that’ vs. wh-word vad ‘what’), but Polish has only two (complementizer że ‘that’ vs. relative co ‘that’ and wh-word co ‘what’). Similar observations can be made for verbal complementizers which can be analogous to or different from quotative markers (see Lord 1993 for Akan/Akuapem/Ewe; see also Chappell 2008 for Mandarin).

The above description shows that subordinators can represent diverse categories, with different morpho-syntactic properties, both synchronically and diachronically. To better understand those issues, we invite presentations on the following research questions:


Research Questions and Issues to approach

RQ1: What are the formal proprieties of clausal complements of V/N and of relative clauses?

  • What is/are the form(s) of complementizers/relativizers?
  • Is the form of complementizer/relativizer identical to other elements in the language (demonstratives, wh-words, equative particles etc.)?
  • What is/are the structure(s) of relative clauses and complement clauses? Are they similar? Are they (slightly) different?
  • What is the syntactic position of complementizers? Is it similar to (or different from) the position of categories it is homophonous with?
  • What is the syntactic position of relative clauses in the sentence?
  • What is the relation between noun complements and relative clauses?
  • What Is the left-periphery of relative clauses?


  • Impact of the morpho-semantic features of the verb on complementizers:
    • Modality (e.g., mood particles in Balkan and Romance languages, etc.)
    • Aspect
    • Tense
  • Can diachronic data complement synchronic data in the analysis?


RQ2: In complex sentences with embedded clauses, what are the morpho-syntactic and semantic properties of the matrix predicate?

  • Complementizer deletion
  • What are the syntactic atoms selected by the matrix predicate (categories or features? Quid of Category-selection, Chomsky 1965)? E.g., the complement of think can be a CP (John thinks [CP that I am happy]) but not a DP (*John thinks [DP that idea]).
  • Does the matrix predicate require a question, a proposition or an exclamation (Semantic-selection, Grimshaw 1979)? E.g., think requires a proposition.



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