The implicated event of pizza-eating

I have a large and ever-growing collection of notes to myself on linguistic topics. This morning I came across one of these notes, a slip of paper with the following example on it:

(1) They came by bearing pizza, after which we watched The Music Man.

(The note doesn’t identify the source of the sentence or the date when I collected it.)

On the most straightforward reading, this sentence has a summative relative clause, “after which we watched The Music Man“, in which the relativizer which refers to the event of some people’s coming by bearing pizza; that is, (1) asserts describes two events, an arrival-with-pizza event and a movie-watching event, occurring in that order. In still other words, (1) is paraphraseable as

(2) They came by bearing pizza, after which event we watched The Music Man.

(In fact, some usage writers insist that (1) is unacceptable, because which has no noun antecedent in the sentence — so that (1) is “vague” — and that something like the clunky (2) must be used instead. See the summatives posting linked to above.)

And now for a subtlety. Although (1) describes only two events, most readers will understand (1) as implicating a third event, of pizza-eating, intervening between the other two, and the author of (1) surely intended this implicature. A nice little case of how sentences can end up conveying more than they literally mean. (The sentence is true if no event of pizza-eating occurred on the occasion in question.)

5 Responses to “The implicated event of pizza-eating”

  1. Freddy Hill Says:

    I find it likely that the pizza-eating event happened at the same time as the movie-watching event, not before it: “They came bearing pizza, so we decided to have a little pizza-and-movies party”

  2. The Ridger Says:

    Perhaps it’s because I know other languages in which a relativizer can refer back to a clause rather than a noun, but I’ve never understood the “that’s vague!” argument. It seems perfectly clear.

    Less clear is the so-called “Joss Whedon which” (She beat them all up. Then she fell asleep, which she would be tired.) and yet, pragmatically, neither I nor anyone else I know has any trouble understanding such sentences.

  3. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To The Ridger, on the “Joss Whedon which”. I haven’t posted on the phenomenon yet, though i’ve (slowly) been collecting examples, and ADS-L had a wide-ranging discussion of similar examples back in June. In my current inventory of relative clause examples, they’re labeled WH-CONJ “non-restrictive relative with which functioning much like a conjunction”. Most examples have which working much like and, but I have one with it functioning like but, and the one in your example conveys something like ‘since’ or ‘because’.

    About this example: is it something you made up, or is it an actual quote? If the latter, where from?

    And “the Joss Whedon which”: i get no ghits for the phrase, or for “a Joss Whedon which”. So: so-called by whom, where?

  4. The Ridger Says:

    That’s what we call it where I work. I knew it wasn’t a real name. though I had thought it more widespread than that.

    The example is a paraphrase from Serenity the movie; Mr Universe says it while watching the news feed of River in the bar. I’ll put in the DVD and get the real words. He’s watching, and then Simon says the safe phrase and River passes out, and Mr Universe says “And she falls asleep, which she would be sleepy.”

    There was another example in the film, too, Mal confronting Simon after the fight: Zoe asks “Do we know if anyone was killed?” and Mal says, “It’s likely. I know she meant to kill me before the doc put her out, which how exactly does that work, anyhow?”

  5. A double-barreled summative « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] AZBlog, 10/10/09: The implicated event of pizza eating (link) […]

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