2

Let's consider the following sentence, which I just found in Google as an illustrative example:

Наиболее опасные из акул – тигровые акулы, которые обитают в тропических водах.

Two interpretations come to my mind:

(1) The most dangerous sharks are the tiger sharks, which live in tropical waters.

(2) The most dangerous sharks are the tiger sharks that live in tropical waters.

Sentence (1) contains a non-restrictive clause and says two separate things, the first one being that the most dangerous sharks are the tiger sharks, and the second one being that the tiger sharks live in tropical waters. Sentence (2) contains a restrictive clause and says only one thing, namely, that the most dangerous sharks are those tiger sharks that live in tropical waters. Sentence (2) implies that there are also tiger sharks that live in other waters and that those tiger sharks are less dangerous.

My question is this: Are clauses with который restrictive or non-restrictive by default - that is, in situations where the meaning of который is unclear from the context? In other words, which meaning should be assumed when the context allows both?

5

It all depends on context; the rules are not set in stone; the "который" relative clauses in Russian are neither invariably/intrinsically non-restrictive nor invariably/intrinsically restrictive by default. I've come up with two colloquial sentences to illustrate the difference:


Если и есть что-то хуже нарциссов, так это люди, которые не умеют держать себя в руках.

  • {... people who ...} rather than {... people, who ...}

In English, this can only reasonably be interpreted as a (2) restrictive relative clause (without a preceding comma); if you see it as a (1) non-restrictive clause (with a comma), it sounds as if all the people in the world act in the same unpleasant manner. Which would be an illogical thing to say.


И ради этого ты готов пожертвовать своими товарищами, которые помогали тебе все это время?!

  • {... colleagues, who ...} rather than {... colleagues who ...}

In English, this one, on the other hand, can only reasonably be interpreted as a (1) non-restrictive relative clause (with a preceding comma); if you see it as a (2) restrictive clause (without a comma), it sounds as if there are some colleagues you will NOT sacrifice: those who have never helped you before. Which would be an illogical thing to say.


Some languages (English, French etc) make a distinction between a non-restrictive relative clause and a restrictive one with a preceding comma, or the lack thereof, whereas others (Russian, German etc) do not, at least in writing, with an ever-present comma in place.

  • Thanks a lot! I actually meant to ask a slightly different thing: How should I interpret который when the context allows both interpretations? By default meaning, I meant the meaning that should be assumed in the absence of a telling context. I will now edit the question for clarity. – Mitsuko May 20 at 0:33
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    @Mitsuko Hi. That is precisely what my answer was all about: without context to go on, it is not possible, at least in writing, to figure out which is which in Russian or German, as opposed to how it works in English or French. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens May 20 at 1:09
  • Thanks a lot, I now understand that there is no default meaning. If the context does not help, then the clause has to be seen as ambiguous. – Mitsuko May 20 at 21:44
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    I cannot speak for all students, but I myself use the mnemonic keyboard. And I can recommend an excellent website, translit.net , on which you can conveniently type Russian texts from any device with the English keyboard. – Mitsuko Jun 4 at 0:11
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    @Mitsuko I just noticed your comment. Thanks. Somehow, didn't get a notification earlier. In case you haven't noticed by now, Russian SE has a mirror site where different members gather. rus.stackexchange.com/questions?pagesize=50&sort=newest You are only allowed to write in Russian there, but if you find the overall moderating here a bit too stifling for your liking, it may be worth a shot to pop in there -- if anything, just to test the waters and see if it suits you better. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jun 19 at 15:49
4

You can't see the difference between a restrictive and non-restrictive который, but you can hear it.

If the noun phrase that который refers to is stressed and you can sort of "hear" the comma, i.e. the overall tone falls off and starts picking up again on который, it's non-restrictive.

If it's restrictive, the noun phrase and который have about the same emphasis (or lack thereof), and there's no audible break or "reset" of the intonation, just as if the comma wasn't there.

Your particular example, intuitively, feels non-restrictive. It could be restrictive, one would need to hear it to be sure. Just an inference from the meaning; real-world facts suggest a shark is more likely to be deemed the most dangerous based on its species alone, rather than species plus habitat. However, if it was species plus habitat, I feel I'd expect it to be expressed more clearly — say, те из тигровых акул, что обитают, etc.

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    Добавлю, что предложение в вопросе @Mitsuko - достаточно типичный пример "грамматически неверно построенного предложения", которое должен был заметить и не пропустить корректор. Но ситуация с корректорами в СМИ оставляет желать лучшего, в то время как общая грамотность журналистов серьёзно упала в последние лет 20-25. Количество же этих самых СМИ и производимого ими контента возросло многократно. Это нужно чётко понимать, пытаясь изучать русский язык по статьям, найденным "в Гугле". – tum_ May 20 at 7:33
  • >> real-world facts suggest a shark is more likely to be deemed the most dangerous based on its species alone, rather than species plus habitat. << The very same source says the following: аппетит песчаных акул зависит от того, в каких местах они живут. Австралийская песчаная акула – одна из самых опасных акул в Мировом океане. Ее ближайшая родственница – песчаная акула, живущая у берегов тропической Африки, Канарских островов и в некоторых других морях, на людей как будто не нападает, но и про нее говорят, что с ней надо быть поосторожнее. Source: rutlib5.com/book/4518/p/145 – Mitsuko May 20 at 21:45
  • In view of that sentence, the statement about tiger sharks is especially confusing to me. – Mitsuko May 20 at 21:46
  • But anyway, thanks a lot for the answer, it clarifies a lot, so I realize that there is no default meaning. If the context is of no help, then the clause simply has to be seen as ambiguous. – Mitsuko May 20 at 21:46
  • @tum_ A very interesting comment. What's grammatically wrong in that sentence? Yes, the sentence is ambiguous as Nikolay says, but what's wrong from the grammar standpoint? – Mitsuko May 20 at 21:47

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