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Start Date

April 2021

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Department

Linguistics

Faculty Mentor

Dana McDaniel, PhD

Keywords

French, French language, linguistics, in-situ structure

Abstract

French information-seeking questions are unusual in that the wh-word (question word) may appear in two different positions: either initially, as in English (‘What is it?’) or in-situ (‘It is what?’, used in English only to show surprise). Palasis et al. (2019) suggests that this optionality may be linked to the structure c’est (‘it is’), which they found to be related to in-situ questions in French children’s speech. Their data also show that quoi (‘what’) was the most common wh-word used in this structure. The goal of my research is to explore whether the possibility of the two wh-positions in French could be attributed, not to the structure c’est, but to the complex behavior of quoi. The equivalent of ‘what’ has two forms: quoi and que. Quoi only occurs by itself in-situ, and must be part of a prepositional phrase in order to occur initially; que only occurs initially, and only in certain structures. The possibility of wh-in-situ may have arisen due to these restrictions. I have found evidence for this account in linguistic analyses of modern French, as well as in nineteenth century plays that exhibit dialogue in historical French within multiple registers. The linguistic analyses of modern French treat quoi and que as a strong and weak (clitic) form of the same pronoun. Wh-in-situ is never used in the colloquial register in the plays, unlike in modern French; instead, another structure occurs: quoi appears initially preceding the complementizer (‘that’). This structure may be a bridge to the in-situ structure of today.

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Exploring the restrictions of ‘quoi’ as a new variable in the occurrence of unusual wh-structures in French - transcript

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Apr 30th, 12:00 AM

Exploring the restrictions of ‘quoi’ as a new variable in the occurrence of unusual wh-structures in French

French information-seeking questions are unusual in that the wh-word (question word) may appear in two different positions: either initially, as in English (‘What is it?’) or in-situ (‘It is what?’, used in English only to show surprise). Palasis et al. (2019) suggests that this optionality may be linked to the structure c’est (‘it is’), which they found to be related to in-situ questions in French children’s speech. Their data also show that quoi (‘what’) was the most common wh-word used in this structure. The goal of my research is to explore whether the possibility of the two wh-positions in French could be attributed, not to the structure c’est, but to the complex behavior of quoi. The equivalent of ‘what’ has two forms: quoi and que. Quoi only occurs by itself in-situ, and must be part of a prepositional phrase in order to occur initially; que only occurs initially, and only in certain structures. The possibility of wh-in-situ may have arisen due to these restrictions. I have found evidence for this account in linguistic analyses of modern French, as well as in nineteenth century plays that exhibit dialogue in historical French within multiple registers. The linguistic analyses of modern French treat quoi and que as a strong and weak (clitic) form of the same pronoun. Wh-in-situ is never used in the colloquial register in the plays, unlike in modern French; instead, another structure occurs: quoi appears initially preceding the complementizer (‘that’). This structure may be a bridge to the in-situ structure of today.

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