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This is a sentence from an LSAT:

According to one proposed definition, a culture is the totality of the customs practiced by those whose culture it is.

Could someone please explain what does "it" refer to?

Thank you very much,

Leon

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    According to one proposed definition, a culture is the totality of the customs practiced by those whose culture the totality of the customs is. Feb 12, 2021 at 8:10
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    It's non-referential so it doesn't refer to anything. A meaningless pronoun, cf. "it is their culture".
    – BillJ
    Feb 12, 2021 at 9:33
  • @BillJ I see your point but is there any discussion related to this on CaGEL? Can you please give me page no? Jul 2, 2021 at 12:51
  • At the same time, I can see why people think that "it" refers to "the culture", so it is a bit tricky I guess. I wish there was some kind of discussion in the book. Jul 2, 2021 at 13:07
  • @BillJ Another doubt "...whose culture it is", is this an example of extraposition? Jul 2, 2021 at 13:41

3 Answers 3

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If you concentrate on the relative clause

[those] whose culture it is

You could rewrite it as a main clause in this way:

It is their culture.

So it here is a personal pronoun referring to their culture. You could replace "it" with "this" referring to the same:

This is their culture.

You can also have similarly structured sentences with other personal pronouns:

I am their teacher. (so in your specific sentence, the similar construction would be whose teacher I am)

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It refers to "a culture". The definition is self-referential.

a culture is the totality of the customs practiced by those whose culture it is.

Perhaps it will be clearer to substitute a specific culture, such as Arstotzkan (a fictional culture).

Direct substitution:

Arstotzkan is the totality of the customs practiced by those whose culture Arstotzkan is.

although we would swap the last two words because it sounds more natural:

Arstotzkan is the totality of the customs practiced by those whose culture is Arstotzkan.

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  • quibble: it refers to "the culture", not "a culture", as there's already a culture in question, as is the way with pronouns other than indefinite ones
    – gotube
    Jul 2, 2021 at 22:16
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"It" refers to a specific culture.

The sentence refers to cultures (plural), but an individual can only 'have' one culture at a time, hence 'it' is singular.

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  • An individual can have more than one culture. However, the sentence is describing one culture at a time.
    – user253751
    Jul 3, 2021 at 9:44
  • I disagree - a person can be influenced by several cultures, can have "come from" several, but their own culture is unique to them, and fundamentally singular. Jul 5, 2021 at 8:38

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