Can relative pronouns be omitted in some regions?

“I guess it was Cal asked Lee.” (Aron, born in California)
. . .
. . .
“That’s a smell could raise me out of a concrete grave.”
(Adam, born in Connecticut)
(John Steinbeck, East of Eden)

In the ‘it is’ or ‘there is’ constructions, relative pronouns can be omitted, says my Korean grammar book. In this context, is the second sentence an example of regional dialect?


Deleting a relativizer which stands as the subject of a relative clause is not acceptable in formal English, but it is very common in US spoken English. I believe it is to be found in all US dialects, but there are two different processes at work here, and I am not expert enough to say which governs outside my own region:

  • In the Southern dialects I am natively familiar with (and probably in those Afro-American dialects which have ‘descended’ from Southern speech) this is often a simple deletion, just like the universally accepted omission of a relativizer which stands for an object of a relative clause. It is not, I think, a ‘mistake’ or an innovation but a dialect survival from Middle and Early Modern English.

  • There is also a phonological elision so extreme that it is practically indistinguishable from frank syntactic deletion. Function words like relativizers are almost always unstressed, and therefore reduced to a ‘weak’ form. With the weak form of that—which is far and away the most common spoken relativizer—there is reduction in all three components:

    • The initial /ð/ is dropped.
    • The vowel is reduced to /ᵻ/.
    • The /t/ loses its alveolar articulation and is reduced to the glottal stop which usually accompanies word-terminal voiceless stops.

    But if the the previous syllable ends on a vowel or on a consonant which joins with /t/ in an acceptable syllable coda, the reduced vowel is elided altogether—which reduces that to a single phonetic element, the glottal stop [ʔ]. And [ʔ] is not an English phoneme; it isn’t actually ‘heard’ by native speakers.

    In effect, the word that disappears, phonologically.

Source : Link , Question Author : Listenever , Answer Author : StoneyB on hiatus

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