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. ]

4 comment(s) for 'Dangling relative clause'

  1. (Comment, 2005-12-16 08:10 )

    I think it must be the last option you mention, though I would put it like this: the antecedent to which is the proposition “Proulx’s short story contains … sex.” It’s like the following cases:

    I went on a double date, which was a big mistake.
    I went on a double date. It/that was a big mistake.

    Perhaps not a standardly accepted use of “which,” though a reasonable one, given that we can regularly conceive of events or states of affairs as entities (as in “her burning of the house was well-motivated”).

    Knud Lambrecht talks about stuff like this in “Information Structure and Sentence Form” (check on google books around pages 74-75).

  2. (Comment, 2005-12-18 00:36 )
    #2 — chris

    Hm, now that you’re saying it, it is possible that the antecedent is the entire proposition. The sense isn’t much improved, though: “The fact that the short story contains … language of … sex remains faithful to the short story.” Hey, you wouldn’t have expected the story to change! I think the problem is the overabundance of adjuncts and the appositive. The syntax becomes too blurry.

  3. (Comment, 2006-01-18 18:02 )
    #3 — Papotine

    Je viens de faire un tour sur votre blogue et il me plaît. J’ai regardé ensuite les liens de dicos et je m’aperçois que le LDCE (
    Longman dictionary of contemporary English (en ligne !) n’est pas cité : je m’en étonne car c’est celui que j’utilise tout le temps !
    en plus il y a des phrases entières enregistrées pour la prononciation (ça peut être utile pour les “non native speakers” like me !
    me !

  4. (Comment, 2006-01-19 03:24 )
    #4 — chris

    Merci, Papotine, c’est effectivement un ajout précieux.