English possesses a postnominal relative clause structure, where relative clauses occur after the head noun and are introduced by a subordinating relativizer such as “who”, “whom”, “that”, or “which” (He, 2020). In contrast, relative clauses of Chinese are prenominal, with the relative clause preceding the head noun it modifies realized by the auxiliary particle de (的) coming between a RC and the head noun (Yan & Matthews, 2017).
Consider the following:
(1) I know a man who knows a boy who has a cousin who met the richest banker in town
Firstly, note the position of the relative clause in relation to the head noun “man/ 人”. The relative clause in sentence 1 comes after the head noun, while the one in sentence 2 comes before the head noun. Sentence 2 is not grammatical given the limitation of embedding, but theoretically, relativisation is done before the head noun in Chinese.
Furthermore, the postnominal relative clause in English allows for repeated embedding, which is not allowed in Chinese given that long premodifiers are not permitted in the language (He, 2020). This poses a limitation in the embedding of relative clauses in Chinese, with Chinese adopting a different strategy of separating the clauses and editing the subject in each clause to create a comprehensible Chinese sentence (see sentence 3).
He, Y. (2016). The Interaction between SFPs and Adverbs in Mandarin Chinese —A Corpus-Based Approach, 30th Pacific Asia Conference on Language, Information and Computation (PACLIC 30). https://aclanthology.org/Y16
Yan, J. & Matthews, S. (2017). Relative clauses in English-Mandarin bilingual children. Chinese Language and Discourse, 8(1), 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1075/cld.8.1.01yan