PhiN 45/2008: 1

Loreto Catoira (Palo Alto)

Whose Syntax Is It Anyway?
Indo-European and Semitic Links in Spanish Relative Clauses with Pronominal Resumption

The origin of pronominal resumption in Spanish relative clauses stands to date as one of the most puzzling and elusive topics in the history of Romance syntax. While the majority of studies have traditionally assumed that pronominal resumption derived from Latin (Lapesa 1968; Lope Blanch 1984), only a few linguists claimed this phenomenon to be an Arabic-inherited structure resulting from language contact (Van Wijk 1946; Gehman 1982). Other Indo-European and Semitic hypotheses involving Bible translation have also been put forth in an attempt to find alternative sources of resumptive relativization in Greek (Rönsch 1875) and Hebrew (Touratier 1980). This article examines the validity of these arguments and suggests a final proposal.

1 Introduction

In verse 69 of the Poema de Mio Cid (ca. 1140/1207), one of the oldest preserved complete literary works written in Castilian during the Islamic period in Spain (ca. 711-1492), the scribe wrote:

(1) E todos los otros que van a so çervicio
'And all the others who are at his service'

And a few lines below, in verse 398:

(2) Las torres que moros las han
'The towers which Moors them have'
= 'The towers which Moors have'

Both sentences (1) and (2) are relative clauses (henceforth RCs) that include a relative pronoun adjectivally modifying a noun or a pronoun referent in the main clause. Yet sentence (2) contains an additional element; a clitic pronoun las 'them' (fem.) that aims to capture or reflect the head noun phrase, las torres. Defined by McKee and McDaniel (2001: 114) as "a pronominal variable that appears in the position from which movement is proposed to occur," it may often be part of a pleonastic strategy known as pronominal resumption. Although some consider it a "rather exotic morphosyntactic feature" (Pusch 2006: 1), pronominal resumption in RCs is widely attested in many languages, ranging from the Indo-European to the Semitic family. Naturally, resumptive relativization varies cross-linguistically; whereas in Modern Standard Arabic it appears to be an obligatory strategy, in other languages it occurs alongside gap structures (e.g. Spanish), or it is deemed ungrammatical (e.g. Standard English).

(3) Modern Standard Arabic
al-rajul alladhī ra'aytuhu
'The man who I saw him'
 = 'The man I saw'

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(4) Spanish
Fue un momento que lo recordaremos siempre1
'It was a moment that it we will remember always'
 = 'It was a moment that we will always remember'

(5) Standard English
*The girl bought the book that I had just read it2

Various aspects concerning pronominal resumption in RCs have been widely studied. Suñer (2001) and Hawkins (2007), among many others, addressed the central typological generalization about these constructions. In addition, the study of resumption functionality in RCs was thoroughly examined according to three different categories: semantic (Doron 1982; Sells 1984), pragmatic (Prince 1990, 1997; Suñer 1998) and syntactic (Shlonsky 1992; Doron and Heycock 1999). By contrast, it is striking that neither reference grammars nor more recent studies have been able to provide a comprehensive study on the origin of pronominal resumption in Spanish RCs. While most research unanimously concluded that the resumptive strategy derived from Latin (Lapesa 1968; Lope Blanch 1984), only a few linguists claimed this phenomenon to be an Arabic-inherited structure resulting from language contact (Van Wijk 1946; Gehman 1982). Other Indo-European and Semitic hypotheses involving Bible translation have also been put forth in an attempt to find alternative sources of resumptive relativization in Greek (Rönsch 1875) and Hebrew (Touratier 1980). This article examines the validity of these arguments and suggests a final proposal.

2 Indo-European and Semitic Links: Latin and Arabic

In his Gramática histórica de la lengua castellana (1913), Hanssen provided the first analysis of pronominal resumption in Spanish and defined it as "a noun, a personal or relative pronoun in absolute state [in the main clause] whose structure is later indicated by a personal pronoun [in the subordinate clause]" (1913: 193). Resumptive relativization primarily affected Old Spanish, according to the German philologist, although research carried out by various linguists indicates that this syntactic structure is also frequently found in the Castilian prose of the Renaissance (Keniston 1937; Iglesias Casal 1996) and even in Modern Spanish (DeMello 1992; Silva-Corvalán 1996; Suñer 2001).

Because of the genetic linkage that Latin holds with its diachronic successors (i.e. Romance languages), it was traditionally assumed that Spanish inherited pronominal resumption from Latin (Lapesa 1968; Lope Blanch 1984). In Classical Latin, RCs function very similarly to Spanish RCs except when it comes to the position of the relative complementizer, which does not always appear immediately before the subordinate clause. The relative complementizer qui 'who/that' serves as a bridge between the head noun phrase and the RC by agreeing in gender and number with the head noun, at the same time that it also indicates the head noun's case in the subordinate clause.

(6a) Verum ego seditiosus, uti Sulla ait, qui praemia turbarum queror (cf. Cano 2005)
'Indeed I am a rebel as Sulla says which profits from the riots I regret'
 = 'Indeed I am a rebel, as Sulla says, who regrets the profits from the riots'

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(6b) Phaselus ille, quem videtis, hospites, ait fuisse navium celerrimus (cf. Cano 2005)
'The small boat that one which you see oh strangers says that it was of the boats the fastest'
 = 'That small boat which you see, oh strangers, was the fastest among boats'

Modern Spanish RCs have only retained the inflection mark for gender and number in cuyo "whose/of which", which establishes a genitive relation with the thing possessed (and not with the antecedent).

(7) El apartamento cuya propietaria es la madre de Victoria está en venta
'The apartment whose owner is Victoria's mother is on sale'

Pronominal resumption in Latin functions as an optional strategy that seeks to resolve syntactically ambiguous sentences. Found in both academic writings and less formal documents, it initially appeared in legal and judicial texts written in Classical Latin, being quite popular in the writings of Caesar. However, resumptive relativization gradually disappeared from Classical texts while it survived in the spoken variety and in some texts written in decadent Latin (Bassols de Climent 1956: 240). Resumption featured primarily personal pronouns or, less frequently, indefinite pronouns (e.g. quisquis 'any') and adverbs (e.g. ubi 'where') embedded within the subordinate clause. The resumptive pronoun agreed in gender, number and case with the relative complementizer.

When Vulgar Latin began to evolve into the different Romance languages known today, it is possible that resumptive pronouns helped avoid semantic confusion in the absence of marks of declension. In many cases, flexibility in the grammatical norms in oral discourse led to ungrammatical agreements between the relative pronoun, its head noun and the correspondent resumptive. Thus, it was not uncommon to find instances such as (8), wherein quem 'to whom' reproduces the accusative case of the head noun hominem 'to a man', when it should be in the dative case.

(8) Hominem quem ego beneficium ei feci (cf. Touratier 1980: 512)
'To a man who I benefit to him I did'
 = 'To a man to whom I did a good thing'

In order to ensure further clarity, decadent Latin would occasionally resort to using resumptive strategies that echoed the head noun in the RC, not by introducing a pronoun or an adverb but by repeating the head noun (9a). Similar syntactic strategies are also attested in documents written in Medieval Spanish (9b).

(9a) Erant omnino duo itinera quibus itineribus domo exire possent (cf. Bassols de Climent 1956: 241)
'There were only two roads through which through roads from the place to depart they could choose'
 = 'There were only two roads they could choose to depart from the place'

(9b) Está sepultado en un monasterio el cual monasterio fundó el rey (cf. Bassols de Climent 1956: 241)
'He is buried in the monastery which monastery founded the king'
 = 'He is buried in the monastery which the king founded'

It was Van Wijk (1946) who first challenged the assumption that pronominal resumption in Spanish RCs was a phenomenon inherited from Latin. Thus, based upon observations made in his study of resumption in Venezuelan speech, he stated:

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The ample diffusion of this way of constructing [pronominal resumption] in Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan must have been an efficient contribution from Arabic, a language spoken in the Peninsula for centuries, and whose influence on Old Spanish, and even on Modern Spanish, is far from being as unconceivable as many Romanists usually presume. Given the close ties between Moors and Christians during the Middle Ages, that particular coincidence cannot be considered random. (Van Wijk 1946: 207)

Interference between Arabic and Spanish could have been triggered by two different types of language contact: conquest and translation. A Muslim-predominant Iberian Peninsula for almost nine centuries enabled sufficient language contact to count in Modern Spanish with over 4,000 arabismos. These linguistic incursions from Arabic primarily occurred at the semantic level (see for instance Maíllo 1998), leaving open the question whether phonetic and syntactic borrowing did also take place.3 Translations of Classical works, on the other hand, played a major role in the transmission of grammatical items from one language to another, although acceptance of a specific feature in a literary tradition by no means indicates its entrenchment in common speech. Nevertheless, texts that were translated into Spanish during the Middle Ages let us observe to a certain extent the degree of influence that the syntax of the original Arabic document may have exerted on the Romance language (see Galmés de Fuentes 1996). The first translations carried out in the 13th century showed, for instance, a choppy syntax that clearly reflected the original Arabic, including the typology of relative clauses (Alonso Pedraz 1962: 146).

The structure of RCs in Arabic shares some features with that of Spanish RCs while it also displays its own distinctive characteristics. In accordance with other Semitic languages, the configuration of Arabic RCs depends on the definite nature of the head noun phrase. When the RC is modifying an indefinite antecedent, the relative pronoun is left out.

(10) kataba kitāban qara'tuhu
'He wrote a book I read it'
 = 'He wrote a book which I read'

Even though sentence (10) would be ungrammatical in Modern Spanish, Alonso Pedraz (1962) claimed to have found in the 1251 Castilian translation of Calila e Dimna, such syntactic structures that imitated the original Arabic pattern.

(11) Como los sueños del durmiente (Calila e Dimna, cf. Alonso Pedraz 1962: 148)
(= Como los sueños del que duerme)
 = 'Like the dreams of the sleeper'
(= 'Like the dreams of the one who sleeps')

In instances wherein the Arabic RC modifies a definite noun, a relative pronoun must be used. The relative pronoun, alladhī, is inflected only for gender and number, and its dual variant, alladhāni, inflects for gender, number and case (nominative and accusative/genitive). The relative pronoun is usually placed immediately after the head noun and before the RC.

(12a) huwa l-walad alladhī yadrusu hunā
'He the boy who studies here'
 = 'He is the boy who studies here'

(12b) Karīm wa-wālid al-waladān alladhāni yadrusāni hunā
'Karim and Walid the two children who study here'
 = 'Karim and Walid are the two children who study here'

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Another attempt by Alonso Pedraz (1962) to identify Arabic-influenced constructions in Calila e Dimna aimed to see in sentence (13) an alleged version of a typical Arabic anaphoric structure with the complementizer alladhī. Yet this example cannot serve to signal the parallelism with resumptive relativization between both languages.

(13) Lo que vosotros gastares en limosnas (cf. Alonso Pedraz 1962: 148)
(= Las limosnas que vosotros gastareis)
 = 'What you will spend in alms'
(= 'The alms which you will spend')

Pronominal resumption in Arabic is not as optional as in Latin and Spanish. Whether the RC is introduced by a complementizer or not, all cases but nominal subject require a resumptive pronoun that must agree in gender and number with the head noun phrase. The resumptive pronoun is commonly represented by a cliticized personal or possessive pronoun, which suffixes to the subordinate verb or to a preposition when functioning as direct or indirect object (14a), to the object possessed to indicate the genitive case (14b), and to a preposition when functioning as locative (14c).

(14a) jā'a l-walad alladhī ra'aytuhu fī l-sūq
'Came the boy who I saw him at the market'
 = 'The boy whom I saw at the market came'

(14b) jā'a l-walad alladhī kitābahu ištaraytu fī l-sūq
'Came the boy who book of him I bought at the market'
 = 'The boy whose book I bought at the market came'

(14c) jā'a l-hafilat allatī bīhā'arkabu
'Came the bus which on it I ride'
 = 'The bus which I take came'

Several studies that evaluated pronominal resumption in Spanish RCs following Van Wijk's claims showed a tendency towards a final consideration that would encompass both the Latin and the Arabic hypotheses. Marcos Marín (1978), for instance, acknowledged the occurrence of resumption in Latin as well as the interference between Arabic and Spanish as significant factors that may have caused pronominal resumption to appear in early Spanish literary works:

The similarity in the use [of pronominal resumption] in spoken, Vulgar Latin, Hebrew and Arabic explains the vitality of the construction in spoken and written Castilian compared to the set of constraints that affect other Romance languages. (Marcos Marín 1978: 101)

A more in-depth theoretical discussion surrounding this topic took place during the early 1980s, when the linguists Gehman (1982) and Lope Blanch (1984) embarked in a thwarted argument in favor of the Arabic and the Latin-based proposals. The former claimed that cases of pronominal resumption attested in literary works such as the Poema de Mio Cid and Don Quijote (Part I, 1605, Part II, 1615) proved to be a syntactic loan from Arabic based on the structural similarity between both languages. His investigation, however, did not prove such thing. Two years later, Lope Blanch recuperated the Latin-based theory to undermine the statements previously made by Gehman. In Despronominalización de los relativos, Lope Blanch (1984: 268–289) explained how the lack of data and conditions had led Gehman to falsely believe that analogous syntactic structures were correlated. Moreover, Lope Blanch called into question the degree of syntactic influence that Arabic could have exerted on Spanish ("Are we to assume, for instance, that in Medieval Castile there was such a strong and widespread Spanish-Arabic bilingualism that allowed syntactic interferences? No"). He refused to accept any Arabic interference with Spanish alleging that resumption occurs in other Romance languages: "It is hard to believe that a phenomenon found in all Romance languages could have originated in Arabic." Thus, an internal development already present in Vulgar Latin should account for resumptive relativization in Modern Spanish RCs, according to Lope Blanch, whereas similarities to the Arabic resumptive structure must be considered "just a coincidence" (1984: 267).

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Could this be a structure inherited from Latin, as Lope Blanch postulated? Statements made by Augustine of Hippo in Doctrina Christiana (397–426 CE) expressed conflict with the Latin-based assumption. While examining excerpts from the Sacred Scriptures, the Christian philosopher and theologian noted and wrote that resumptive structures found in the Bible appeared to be foreign elements not associated with Latin:

For how does it prevent our understanding it to have the following passage thus expressed: "Quae est terra in qua isti insidunt super eam, si bona est an nequam; et quae sunt civitates, in quibus ipsi inhabitant in ipsis?" (And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad: and what cities they be that they dwell in – Num. 13:19) And I am more disposed to think that this is simply the idiom of another language than that any deeper meaning is intended. (On Christian Doctrine II, 13, 20, (4))

Despite Augustine's assertion, the Vulgar Latin hypothesis put forth by Lope Blanch gained widespread acceptance among Romance linguists, hence closing off further debate on the subject. Yet a small number of studies that propose other Indo-European and Semitic links to pronominal resumption in Spanish RCs may shed further light on the matter.

3 Other Indo-European and Semitic Links: Greek and Hebrew

A few scholars (Bassols de Climent 1956; Marcos Marín 1978; Touratier 1980) who analyzed instances of RCs from Latin documents observed that pronominal resumption occurred more frequently in Christian writings than in secular literature. This could suggest that resumption may have ultimately ended up in Spanish RCs as part of a literary transmission process initiated by a language that contained pronominal relativization. Touratier (1980: 491) pointed out, for instance, that all cases of relative pléonastique found in Christian authors made reference or quoted directly a passage from the Bible, being the Old Testament the source that included most cases of resumption. On the basis of these observations, it could therefore be argued that two more languages (aside from Latin and Arabic) may have also contributed to the occurrence of resumption in Spanish RCs: Greek and Hebrew.

The Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Jewish Scriptures, the Septuagint as is well known, was carried out between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE (probably ca. 280–250 BCE) and let us observe numerous instances of resumptive relativization that could have resulted from direct translations from the Hebrew text (which featured this syntactic phenomenon) or that may have appeared as part of a common strategy used in the contemporary variety of spoken Greek. The Septuagint later served as one of the textual sources of the collection of biblical manuscripts written in Old Latin that comprised the Vetus Latina (ca. 2nd c. CE). This first Latin translation of the Bible reproduced most resumptive relatives from the original Greek, which led Rönsch (1875) to consequently categorize resumptive relativization as a Hellenism, although historical Greek grammars have traditionally attributed this phenomenon to a foreign influence. A few years later, Greek grammarian Jannaris (1897: 353) identified resumptive relativization in Greek as a Hebraism found in the Septuagint and imitated by authors of the New Testament, who then introduced it into the language spoken at that time.

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If we take into account in the context of Bible translation that there may be "structural influence from a prestigious literary language…through the written medium alone, without actual oral bilingualism among borrowing-language speakers" (Thomason and Kaufman 1988: 78), the possibility that structural borrowing from Biblical Hebrew did occur becomes more feasible. In fact, it has been widely attested that the work of translators of biblical documents such as the Vetus Latina exerted a significant degree of influence on language development in such a way that it proved pivotal in the formation of Christian Latin and the transmission of certain popular expressions (Mohrmann 1977: 119; Schrijnen 1977: 45).

In addition to the Vetus Latina, the most influential Latin version of the Hebrew Bible is the Vulgate. Translated by Jerome between 390 and 405 CE after having undertaken at an earlier stage the revision of the Vetus Latina of Psalms, it also serves as a source of instances of resumptive relativization that allegedly transferred from the original Hebrew.

(15) Beatus uir cuius est nomen Domini spes eius (cf. Touratier 1980: 492)
'Blessed man whose is name Lord hope of him'
 = 'Blessed is the man whose hope is the Lord's name'

The Hebrew Bible, which Jerome closely followed, comprises around 5,500 marked RCs wherein gap structures alternate with pronominal resumption. The relative pronoun 'asher is, unlike Classical Latin, not inflected for case, person, gender, or number (although as noted earlier, a few examples from decadent Latin showed no mark of declension).

(16) 'anî yhwh 'asher hosetika me Ur Kasdim (cf. Joosten 1993: 276)
'I Yhwh who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans'
 = 'I am Yhwh who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans'

Resumption in Biblical Hebrew RCs occurs when a syntactic constituent (mostly a cliticized personal or possessive pronoun) appears within the subordinate clause to capture the head noun in the main clause. As in Arabic, the resumptive pronoun may be attached to a verb, an accusative marker (e.g. 'ot) or to a locative preposition (as in 17).

(17) bammāqôm 'asher yibhar yhwh 'elōhêkā bô (cf. Holmstedt 2002: 2)
'In the place that he chooses Yhwh god of you in it'
 = 'In the place that Yhwh, your god, chooses it'

According to Ewald (1879), resumption in Biblical Hebrew RCs is linked to the loss of inflection of the relative pronoun. A similar argument applied to cases of resumption in Latin RCs (see Bassols de Climent 1956) when the inflection of qui began to disappear as grammatical restrictions were relaxed in less formal varieties of Latin. In Spanish, Lope Blanch (1984) has accordingly called this phenomenon the 'depronominalization of que'. Ewald also observed that when the RC is removed from its head noun by a significant distance, the resumptive strategy is favored in the subordinate clause.

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(18) 'anî yosēp 'ahîkem 'asher məkartem 'ōtî misrāymah (cf. Holmstedt 2002: 30)
'I Joseph, brother of you, who you sold me to Egypt
 = 'I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold to Egypt'

As in Latin, resumptive pronouns (especially in object position) in Biblical Hebrew were used for clarity and to avoid ambiguity in regard to the syntactic function of the antecedent.

(19) wayya'abdû elōhîm 'ahērîm wayyshitah'awû lāhem 'elōhîm 'asher lō' yədā'ûm (cf. Holmstedt 2002: 29)
'And they served gods others, and they bowed down to them gods which not they did know them'
 = 'And they served other gods, and they bowed down to them, gods which they did not know'

On the basis of these observations, and as Jannaris (1897) already postulated, it could be argued that Hebrew played an important role in spreading resumptive relativization. The pleonastic strategy would therefore have arisen in Romance languages as the result of literal translations from the original Hebrew sources. Could Hebrew consequently be the missing link?

4 Whose Syntax Is It Anyway?

While it may seem feasible to ultimately make Hebrew responsible for pronominal resumption in Spanish RCs, there is one fundamental fact that instantly invalidates this hypothesis. There is written attestation of these resumptive structures in the work of Roman authors such as Plautus (254–184 BCE) and Titus Livius (59 BCE–14 CE), which date from the era prior to the first translation of the Bible into Latin.

(20) Plautus
Truthus fuit, Cerconicus, Crinnus, Cercobulus, Collabus oculicrepidae cruricrepidae, ferriteri mastigiae: inter eosne homines condalium te redipisci postulas? quorum eorum unus surrupuit currenti cursori solum (Trinummus, 1022−23)
'Chiruchus was there, Cerconicus, Crimnus, Cricolabus, Collabus, whipped-necks, whipped-legs, iron-rubbers, whipped-knaves. Is it among such men that you expect you may recover your ring? By my faith, any one of these (lit. 'from whom just one of them') could steal the sole of his shoe from a running footman'

(21) Titus Livius
Marcus Flauius tribunus plebis tulit ad populum, ut in Tusculanos animaduerteretur, quorum eorum ope ac consilio Veliterni Priuernatesque populo Romano bellum fecissent (cf. Touratier 1980: 505)
'M. Flavius, a tribune of the plebs, brought before the people a proposal to take measures against the Tusculans, by whose assistance and counsel (lit. from whose assistance and counsel from them) the peoples of Velitrae and Privernum had made war against the people of Rome'

This last piece of evidence leads to one final conclusion; resumptive relativization was a syntactic phenomenon already present in Latin (found in some Classical texts but predominant in Vulgar Latin). The periods of intensive translation activity may have contributed to preserve this feature primarily as a disambiguation strategy. Additionally, the first translators of the Bible were common people who, despite their efforts to closely follow the original Hebrew or Greek, unknowingly left traces of their less formal speech (i.e. Vulgar Latin) in the final document.

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Hence, this study concludes that, although Semitic languages like Arabic and Hebrew, and Indo-European such as Greek may have been involved in resumptive relativization in Spanish, whether directly or indirectly (especially in regard to frequency), there is no doubt that pronominal resumption in Spanish RCs should be considered a phenomenon inherited from Latin.


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Augustine, Saint (1958): On Christian Doctrine, translated by D. W. Robinson, New York.

Bassols de Climent, Mariano (1956): Sintaxis Latina, Madrid.

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Doron, Edit / Heycock, Caroline (1999): "Filling and Licensing Multiple Specifiers", in: Adger, D. / Pintzuk, S. / Plunkett, B. / Tsoulas, G. (ed.), Specifiers: Minimalist Approaches, Oxford, 69−89.

Ewald, Heinrich (1879): Syntax of the Hebrew Language of the Old Testament, translated by J. Kennedy, Edinburgh.

Galmés de Fuentes, Álvaro (1996): Influencias sintácticas y estilísticas del árabe en la prosa medieval castellana, Madrid.

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Jannaris, Antonius Nicholas (1897): An Historical Greek grammar Chiefly of the Attic Dialect, London.

Joosten, Jan (1993): "The Syntax of Relative Clauses with a First or Second Person Antecedent in Biblical Hebrew", in: Journal of Near Eastern Studies 52.4, 275−280.

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Prince, Ellen. (1997): "On Kind-Sentences, Resumptive Pronouns, and Relative Clauses", in: Guy, G.R. / Schiffrin. D. / Baugh J. (ed.), Towards a Social Science of Language. Papers in Honor of William Labov, Vol. 2: Social Interaction and Discourse Structures, Amsterdam, 223−235.

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1 Also, "Fue un momento que recordaremos siempre."

2 Moosally points out that non-standard varieties of English may allow pronominal resumption: "I just saw a girl who Jake claimed she was a genius" (Moosally 1994: 1).

3 Hernández (1990) defends the hypothesis of an intermediate fricative bilabial [φ] in the evolution from [f] to [h], which was probably affected by Arabic, as it features two aspirate voiceless consonants. In syntax, Huffman (1977) considered the Spanish syntactic pattern no…sino "not only…but" a possible borrowing from Arabic.