The role of illi ‘that’ in the grammar of Egyptian Arabic

This paper investigates the role of illi in the grammar of one of the colloquial dialects of Arabic; that is Egyptian Arabic (EA). It investigates how illi affects the formation of wh-questions (with initial and in-situ wh-phrases) and relative clauses. Since the classification of illi has been a subject of debate in the literature, the study aims at providing a new analysis for it. The major claim is that illi belongs to the class of functional categories which serves the grammatical function of a relative pronoun.

This paper presents data where illi acts as both a relative pronoun and a licensor for wh-fronting. The following questions are addressed:

  1. If illi is analysed as a relative pronoun, how can we account for its occurrence in an initial position within some wh-questions without having to propose a movement analysis?
  2. Can illi be classified as a complementizer that shares some syntactic properties with the complementizer inn ‘that‟?
  3. Within wh-questions, does illi behave as a question particle?
  4. How can we account for the EA data where illi has the dual function of a relative pronoun and a complementizer?

The major claim is that illi does not belong to the class of question particles which mark a yes/no question and a wh-question. Though illi and inn „that‟ occur as C elements equivalent to the English „that‟, illi does not exhibit the morphological or the functional properties of inn „that‟, hence it cannot be classified as a complementizer. Within wh-questions, the position of illi depends on the position of the argument wh-phrases which can either occupy the Spec CP position when followed by illi, or remain in situ with illi in an initial position. I conclude that illi shares the structural position of complementizers while carrying out the grammatical function of relative pronouns.

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