Dangling relative clause

Mes excuses pour le manque de billets. En attendant, une pauvre phrase relative en rade, piquée sur un site homophobe…

First my apologies for being such a spotty blogger lately. Offline life is intruding even more than it used to and makes sustained online activities a bit hard at the moment. But I will be back: with everything on my to-blog list, there is no lack of topics.

In the meantime, let me just quickly point out a very strange relative clause I’ve just come across. It’s originally from a site called Straight Talk Radio, which I understand belongs to a homophobic, fundamentalist Christian radio show made in USA. This is what they have to say about Brokeback Mountain, the recent film about the love between two cowboys, after a short story by Annie Proulx [link invalid — see alternatives at the end of this post (emphasis in the original):

Proulx’s short story contains graphic, vulgar and explicit pornographic language of homosexual sex between the two cowboys, which some who saw the movie, say remains faithful to the short story.

This radio show doesn’t seem to have permalinks to their programs, but Pandagon, where I first saw the sentence, does.

The problem is, what is the antecedent of the relative pronoun which? If you look at the stripped down relative clause

  • which some […] say remains faithful to the short story — or even shorter: –
  • which […] remains faithful to the short story

you’d expect the antecedent to be the movie. Given that the program is about the movie (it is titled America: Beware of ‘Brokeback Mountain’), this assumption seems reasonable. But this putative antecedent is nowhere to be found in the main clause. So if it isn’t the movie, what could it be? Three noun phrases are candidates for the position: Proulx’s short story, graphic, vulgar and explicit pornographic language and homosexual sex. (There’s a fourth, the two cowboys, but you’d expect who, not which, and a plural agreement of the verb in the relative clause. So we can leave this one aside at once.)

The first, Proulx’s short story, is farthest away from the relative clause, and furthermore doesn’t make any sense at all (Proulx’s short story remains faithful to the short story : a tautology). But neither do the other two because the main, or matrix clause talks about the short story only, and when it mentions graphic, vulgar and explicit pornographic language of homosexual sex it is understood that it means in the short story.

So, what now? I’ve read complaints about which becoming, for inexperienced writer, some sort of universal relative pronoun or universal linking word, to be employed when unsure how to connect two clauses. Maybe that’s the case here.

As for the dire warnings, I don’t know yet if I’m going to watch Brokeback Mountain when it comes over to Europe, but I did enjoy the short story. It works for me: it talks about feelings and desire, and does contain two short sex scenes, depicted in stark, economic language. As always, it is best to make up one’s own mind.

[Update, 2005/12/17: Apparently, the New Yorker has taken the story offline. I’m looking for another link to it. Further update: There’s a html version and a .pdf file available. If these links prove ephemeral, a Google search will help, if necessary via the “Cache” links. ]

Via Crooked Timber, a comic-strip style overview of the rules of cricket [.pdf] — in French. Published, in fact, by the Fédération Française de Basketball - Softball & Cricket. Not only did I understand everything (wow!), including the very strange point about the defending team being the one that tries to destroy the wicket, but I even had a vocabulary- and phonology-related revelation: The word wicket is historically the same as the French noun guichet! In contemporary French, a guichet is a booth or a counter, for example the guichet of a metro station, where you can buy tickets from a real human being. Originaly it signified a small door or opening in a monumental door, a wall or a fortification.

The correspondence between /w/ in English and /g/ in French (always pronounced [g], thus the u after the g in guichet) is very well-known: it is the trace of a regular sound shift. Examples are war - guerre, Wales - (Pays des) Galles, wasp - guêpe (the accent mark indicates a lost /s/), William - Guillaume, warden - gardien, waffle - gaufre, and probably quite a few I can’t remember.

I’m also unclear about when this shift happened or indeed which came first. But to narrow it down a little, these are not French words absorbed by English, but some of the relatively rare words of Germanic origin in French. The TLFi entry for guichet indicates that it was already present in Old French and has a first cite from the early 12th century.

Some reflected glory from Les Blogs

V.F. en cours de rédaction.

  • 2005-12-05
  • Comments Off

I spent a very pleasant day yesterday having lunch with Suw Charman (in whose IRC channel#[1] I like to hang out), Kevin Anderson of BBC World Have Your Say and Matt Mullenweg (the WordPress lead developer). They are in Paris for the Les Blogs 2 conference. The local welcome committee included Michel Valdrighi (who took some great pictures) and Mark Cabiling. Frédéric de Villamil joined us later, after we’d taken a stroll showing off Paris to our visitors and arrived at the Lizard Lounge bar for pre-conference drinks and socialising.

Even though I’m not at Les Blogs, the meeting was rather stimulating. Kevin proceeded to interview Fred and me about the French blogs’ reaction to the recent unrest in the French peri-urban housing estates#[2], in the context of the traditional media. Even though I’ve only been interviewed a handful of times in my life, I could tell that Kevin is an excellent interviewer. We had an interesting discussion about political blogging: how, via the tools that are now available to any interested citizen, a political debate that is deadlocked between the oft-repeated stances of whatever the dominating political actors are in a given country, can be shaken up and revitalised. This includes places where blogging is subjected to massive censorship (China, for example), but also the old Western democracies that are typically suffering from stagnation of the political life and ossification of the structures. How exactly this (often still very modest) injection of new democratic lifeblood happens varies a lot between countries, localities or other units that are covered by a common political process.

Another topic that came up with various conference-goers was that of multilingualism in the blogging world. Multilingual blogging tools — multilingual anything, really — feature prominently in that, but also the problem of vehicular languages, at the moment English most of the time. There is a fine balance between the nefarious effects of the domination of one language in international communication, on the one hand, and the effective silencing even the most brilliant ideas undergo if they are not reflected in the common discourse, on the other. This is a question I’ll have to come back to in another post.

[1]: #suwcharman on irc.freenode.net — it’s rather like a 19th century salon, 21st century version. [2]: It is time, maybe, to admit that I decided some months ago to reorganise my online activities. I have, in effect, split my web presence, focussing this blog on matters of language, my forays into linguistics, reading, uses of the new electronic tools and occasionally meta-blogging posts like this one. The more personal stuff, topics related to local blogquaintances, snarky remarks and polemicising has been shifted to a different place, which is not publicised under my real identity. I don’t have any doubt that a competent searcher will be able to find the rest of my writing — I’ve been active on the internet for over ten years after all, and it has left traces with my name attached to them. Yet I’m trying to prevent my more experimental and controversial material to show up on top of any Google search for my name. Another, more important, reason for the split was that I had started blogging without any consideration for a potential readership. Those local or regional bloggers I’ve made friends with, sometimes via the blogging platforms we use, sometimes around a pint of Guinness, aren’t necessarily interested in this blog. And those readers who are, could care less#[3] about what’s shaking the locals, or the weather in Paris. So, yes, I have indeed written about the French riots. In English even. Just not here.

Over at Crooked Timber, they are hosting a seminar on Susanna Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (book via Amazon.fr). The link goes to the introductory post, from which you can jump to individual articles, including one from the author. It must be the very wintry autumn we’ve been having here in Paris that has […]

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