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From Andrew Radford, A. (2004) English Syntax: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

For Chomsky, the goal of the linguist is to determine what it is that native speakers know about their native language which enables them to speak and understand the language fluently: hence, the study of language is part of the wider study of cognition (i.e. what human beings know).

As I know,' which' refers to nouns or pronouns most of the time. Does 'which' here refer to 'what it is that native speakers know about their native language' ?

If not, what part does it refer to?

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For Chomsky, the goal of the linguist is to determine [what it is that native speakers know about their native language] which enables them to speak and understand the language fluently.

Yes: "which" refers to the expression "what it is that native speakers know about their native language", which is a noun phrase.

Note that the antecedent is called a 'fused' relative construction, where "what" means "that which".

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  • Thanks! Does 'which' refer to the phrase that only 'what' introduces? Can it refer to other kinds of clauses?
    – Mr. Wang
    Sep 2, 2023 at 14:51
  • @WingledTiger No: "which" can refer to almost anything. In your example it refers to the what noun phrase.
    – BillJ
    Sep 2, 2023 at 15:47

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