Relative clauses introduced by vos (e.g., der bokher vos ikh ze ‘the boy that I see’) are the most typical relative clause pattern in Eastern Yiddish. The construction has characteristic traits: although vos derives from the interrogative pronoun WHAT, which is restricted to non-humans, relative vos has no restrictions with respect to the semantics of the relativized nouns. In addition, depending on the syntactic function of the relativized noun, resumptive pronouns can or must also be present (e.g., der bokher vos ikh ze im lit. ‘the boy what I see him’).
The present article is concerned with the origin of this construction. To this end, it is compared to German, Semitic and Slavic constructions that display similar or identical characteristics. The comparison encompasses older stages as well as modern non-standard varieties of the relevant languages. It turns out that vos relative clauses owe their origin to Slavic, rather than Semitic or German. This finding is discussed with respect to the contact situation of Eastern Yiddish in more general terms. It may be that in the realm of syntax, the role of Semitic has been overrated, whereas the role of Slavic has been underestimated in many previous accounts.
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