Subject contact clauses in Irish English

August 22, 2014

Everyone came home from England was questioned. (Timothy O’Grady, I Could Read the Sky)

Contact clauses are dependent clauses attached directly to their antecedent, i.e., without any relative pronoun. For example: a book I read; the town we visited; a person you admire. In each case that, which or who might be added after the noun phrase, but doesn’t have to be.

Otto Jespersen introduced the term, calling them contact clauses “because what characterizes them is the close contact in sound and sense between the clause and what precedes it”.

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Rumble Tumble stumble

November 23, 2011

This guy Leonard knew sold cold guns was named Haskel Ward.

Did this line wrongfoot you? More than once?

It’s a great example of a garden path sentence, and one with multiple paths. It appears at the beginning of chapter 7 in Joe R. Lansdale’s novel Rumble Tumble, which I’m reading at the moment.

It boils down to “This guy was named X.” Inserting a relative pronoun or two —

This guy [who] Leonard knew [who] sold cold guns was named Haskel Ward.

— clarifies the syntax, but robs the line of its charm and of the narrator’s distinctive voice.

Grammatically what this is is a subject contact clause. As my shows shows, these are quite common in Irish English and also some US dialects.

Dinosaur Comics, 25 November 2003

(If you’re a regular visitor here, you might remember seeing Rumble Tumble in this bookmash, where I found another use for its rhyming reduplication.)