Mark Liberman of Language Log is starting “a small series of posts about linguistic aspects of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels”; so far there has been one on “linking which” and one on “Words, foods, characters.” Anyone interested in the novels (which should include everyone who likes the combination of well-written English and a well-told story) should avail themself of A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales, by Dean King, John B. Hattendorf, and J. Worth Estes; Mark’s posts complement it excellently.


  1. Chris Lovell says:

    I don’t think I agree with Lieberman’s analysis, but maybe I’m misunderstanding what he (and for that matter, the OED) is saying. According to Lieberman “which” at the beginning of the sentence “Which she is belching so and throwing up you can hardly hear yourself speak,” is a linking phrase equivalent to “with respect to her” or suchlike. A consequence of this interpretation is that “which” has no antecedent.
    But why can’t we say that the antecedent of “which” is “frumenty,” from the previous sentence (“What about pudding? Did you ask Mrs. Lamb about pudding? About her frumenty?”)? “Which” would be the direct object of belching and throwing up, so Killick is saying “The frumenty that she’s belching and throwing up so (violently) you can hardly hear yourself speak?”
    There is a parallel for this use of the relative pronoun in classical Latin, where a form of the relative pronoun qui, quae, quod can start an independent clause and have an antecedent in a previous sentence. This use of the relative pronoun is sometimes called the coordinating relative.

  2. I think you are misunderstanding him. He says:
    It connects a descriptive clause (“she is belching …”) to the noun phrase that it describes (“Mrs Lamb”), across two prepositional phrases and a conversational break…
    Therefore (according to him) “Mrs Lamb” is the antecedent.

  3. That’s what _he_ says. O’Brian’s dead, so we can’t get confirmation either way–I’m _entirely_ comfortable reading it like Chris does.

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