The received view is that there are no constraints on clausal embedding complexity in sentences. This hypothesis will be challenged here on empirical grounds from the viewpoint of multiple initial embedding of clauses. The data come from the British National Corpus, Brown, LOB, and philological scholarship. The results extend to several other ‘Standard Average European’ (SAE) languages like Finnish, German, Latin, and Swedish. There is a precise quantitative constraint on the degree of initial clausal embedding, and that limit is two. In double initial embeddings, a qualitative constraint prescribes that typically the highest embedded clause is an if-clause. The lower embedded clause should be the sentential subject of the if-clause. Here is a real example of a maximally complex, prototypical, initial clausal embedding in mainstream SAE: [Main [Init–1 If [Init–2 what is tantamount to dictatorship …] continues in a union] it can …] (LOB). Multiple initial self-embeddings are prohibited.
2009. The noun/verb and predicate/argument structures. Lingua 119:11 ► pp. 1707 ff.
Luuk, Erkki & Hendrik Luuk
2011. The redundancy of recursion and infinity for natural language. Cognitive Processing 12:1 ► pp. 1 ff.
Machicao y Priemer, Antonio & Stefan Müller
2021. NPs in German: Locality, theta roles, possessives, and genitive arguments. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 6:1
2022. Dynamical Systems Implementation of Intrinsic Sentence Meaning. Minds and Machines 32:4 ► pp. 627 ff.
Parisse, Christophe & Christelle Maillart
2009. Specific language impairment as systemic developmental disorders. Journal of Neurolinguistics 22:2 ► pp. 109 ff.
Verhoeven, Elisabeth & Nico Lehmann
2018. Self-embedding and complexity in oral registers. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 3:1
This list is based on CrossRef data as of 26 november 2023. Please note that it may not be complete. Sources presented here have been supplied by the respective publishers.
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