I have a question about the meaning of some sentence fragment in this NY Times article:

There is a broad consensus that the Saudi ideological juggernaut has disrupted local Islamic traditions in dozens of countries — the result of lavish spending on religious outreach for half a century, estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. The result has been amplified by guest workers, many from South Asia, who spend years in Saudi Arabia and bring Saudi ways home with them.

Does the part "who spend years in..." apply to "guest workers", or to "many from South Asia"?

  • There is an implied predicate in "many (of them) [BE] from South Asia" and so the only noun the relative who-clause might attach to is "South Asia", which is not a person, leaving guest workers as the only viable antecedent to who.
    – TimR
    Jul 5, 2017 at 11:37

2 Answers 2

  1. "... many from South Asia," is a phrase that adds information about the guest workers (it tells us they are from South Asia). This type of phrase is called an appositive which is always closed in by commas.

  2. "... who spends years in Saudi Arabia," is a dependent relative clause and the relative pronoun who = "the guest workers".

Therefore, both refer to the guest workers.

  • Perhaps you could provide other examples of the appositive and the dependent relative clause in action?
    – Andrew
    Jul 5, 2017 at 5:57
  • +1 for the answer. They went to the zoo and visited the herpetology building where they saw all kinds of reptiles and snakes, many (of them) venomous, whose habitats ranged from jungle to desert. I'm fine with calling this an appositive construction but I think it could be analyzed differently.
    – TimR
    Jul 5, 2017 at 11:24

the phrase

who spend years in Saudi Arabia


guest workers

as does

many from South Asia

so the meaning is that being a "guest worker", one is influenced by Saudi culture, and "many" but not all "guest workers" are from South Asia.

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