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Dossier (“a file containing detailed records on a particular person or subject”) comes to English directly from the French, in which language it referred to a compendium of files, arranged in folders, each one with its name written on the spine, or back.

This comes from Merriam-Webster's entry on the word dossier.

I do not understand the clause beginning after the first comma. Taking language as the subject thereof, this is not a complete clause. I feel like there might be another way of reading it, but I can't wrap my head around it. I see that French refers to the people, so I can see which being replaced by whose, but I don't understand it as is.

migrated from english.meta.stackexchange.com Oct 27 '17 at 8:33

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    "From the French" in idiomatic English means "From the French language," not "From the French people." The next phrase, "in which language," is thus heavily repetitive, since many native English speakers will already know that the writer is talking about the French language. A shorter way to express the sentence would be this: "Dossier (...) comes to English directly from French; in that language, the word refers to a compendium of files ..." – Sven Yargs Oct 27 '17 at 4:52
  • Oh ok; that's strange that I have never heard a language be preposed by 'the'. Still, it seems more than just repetitive to say "in which language"; it seems wrong. Now that I understand 'the French' refers to the language directly, saying 'in which' without 'language' seems to be the shortest way to correct this. – FLOWMEEN Oct 27 '17 at 5:06
  • Much the same might be said of your wording Taking language as the subject thereof. Why not taking language as its subject? Different strokes for different folks. – AmE speaker Oct 27 '17 at 9:20
  • It's borderline. If "the French" is understood as "the French language" (which is possible) then "in which language" is wrong. "Which" is anaphoric to "the French, so it would be interpreted as "in the French language language" which makes no sense. Much better to replace "the French" with just "French" (meaning the language). Typical of the useless MW! – BillJ Oct 27 '17 at 10:27
  • Is this question on-topic? ELU is not really a 'passage explanation' service (like proofreading), but I'm having trouble thinking of somewhere else to go to get this kind of thing answered. Is ELL appropriate? Anywhere else? – Mitch Oct 27 '17 at 14:33
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Dossier (“a file containing detailed records on a particular person or subject”) comes to English directly from the French, in which language it referred to a compendium of files, arranged in folders, each one with its name written on the spine, or back.

Is this sentence correct?

Assuming you mean grammatically correct, yes, it is. Whether or not it's correct in content, I imagine it is, but I can't attest to that fact.

I do not understand the clause beginning after the first comma.

It means: In French, it referred to a compendium of files, which were arranged in folders with each folder having its name written on the spine, or back.

You said, "taking language as the subject thereof," but if that is what you took from it, then you're incorrect. The subject thereof is "it." "It" refers to the antecedent "dossier."

You said, "...this is not a complete clause," but it is a complete clause. "It" is the subject. "Referred" is the verb. "To a compendium of files" and "in which language" are modifying prepositional phrases.

You said, "I see that French refers to the people," but it doesn't. The phrase "comes from the" followed by a language name is an idiomatic of saying the word derives from a word in that language.

Consider the following examples from various published works:

In the above, it becomes clear that "comes from the French" means that the word derives from French, that the words "the French" in that idiomatic expression refer to the language, not the people. It becomes especially clear in the last example because "Old French" and "Old Norse" are languages, not people. There is no people called "the Old French," no people called "the Old Norse," only languages called those things.

Hopefully, with these clarifications, the quote and its clause after the first comma now make sense to you and you now do understand it as it is.

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Actually, "in which language it referred to a compendium of files..." is a complete dependent clause: The subject of the clause is not "language", as you suggested. The subject is "it". "in which language" is the conjunction for this dependent clause.

By the way, could the clause, "in which language it referred to a compendium of files...", be misquoted? Could it be ""in which language it referS to a compendium of files..."?

  • You can check the link yourself if you think I misquoted. – FLOWMEEN Dec 12 '17 at 22:43

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