A historical note on the (in)declinable relative pronoun and its syntactic functions

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The indeclinable relative particle of Old Germanic could be used for at least 3 syntactic functions: for the relativisation of (1) subjects, (2) objects and (3) prepositional complements, for example in Old English and Old Frisian. This is no longer the case in Modern English, Modern Dutch, Modern German or Modern Frisian. It is pointed out that the indeclinable relative particle retained all three functions in Frisian until around 1900, when it stopped being used for the relativisation of subjects and objects. All three functions were retained at least until the middle of the 20th century in the Dutch dialects of Marken and Volendam, which both border on the lake IJsselmeer as does the province of Fryslân. The indeclinable relative particle has been pushed back in Frisian by the declinable relative particle, a process which has its roots in Old Frisian. It is shown that the declinable relative particle (DY, DAT in Frisian) has gradually taken over the function of subject and object relativisation. Historically, the indeclinable relative particle developed into the R-pronoun (Frisian DÊR), and it is still used to relativize prepositional complements in Modern Frisian, thus retaining its third syntactic function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-174
JournalIt Beaken. Tydskrift fan de Fryske Akademy
Issue number3/4 (2015)
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016


  • relatives
  • historical
  • declinable
  • dialects


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