Archive for the ‘Relativization’ Category

Resumptive pronoun, or something

February 1, 2011

From Bruce Webster in e-mail a few days ago, a pointer to an story of January 27 about Jeff Fisher leaving as coach of the Tennessee Titans (“Split is best move for both Fisher and Titans” by Michael Lombardi). The final sentence in this passage is the one of interest; the problematic subordinate clause is bold-faced, but the larger context is important:

When defensive line coach Jim Washburn walked out the door and headed to Philadelphia, so did a piece of Fisher. Fisher believes the game is won up front — in both the offensive and defensive lines. He took great pride in being strong in both areas, with his players and coaches. Once he lost Washburn, whom Titans management allowed his contract to expire, Fisher lost any chance of having the kind of team he envisioned.


Data points: gapless relatives 11/25/10

November 25, 2010

From a commercial for Mr. Clean (a household cleaning agent), seen recently on tv:

(1) He’s cleaning things that we don’t even know what they are.

The relative clause, boldfaced above, has no gap of “extraction” in it; instead, the pronoun they is anaphoric to the head of the relative, things. The gapped version is stunningly worse:

(2) He’s cleaning things that we don’t even know what ___ are.

In (2) the gap is inside an “anaphoric island”, a WH clause, and worse, it’s a subject gap, so using a “resumptive pronoun” instead of a gap, as in (1), repairs the problem in processing the relative clause — yielding something that’s not standard English but is comprehensible.

So (1) is an example of what I called in a Language Log posting from three years ago a ResIsland gapless relative (with a resumptive pronoun repairing an island violation). They are pretty common, and many of them have a somewhat vernacular and playful feel to them, an effect that might make the Mr. Clean commercial noticeable and memorable.


Who or which?

August 2, 2010

From the Lousy Linguist this morning:

… I stumbled across what appears to be a legitimate, well-meaning, but perhaps somewhat misguided research project: The who/which project. From the project web page:


The implicated event of pizza-eating

October 10, 2009

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.)