Gabriel Thiberge

ATER & Post-doc

Status : Post-doc

Address :

LLF, CNRS – UMR 7110
Université Paris Diderot-Paris 7
Case 7031 – 5, rue Thomas Mann,
75205 Paris cedex 13

Mail :


Title : Acquisition et maîtrise des interrogatives partielles en français : La variation sociolinguistique comme outil interactionnel

Supervision :
  Barbara Hemforth

PhD Defense : 2020-12-14

Inscription : 2017 à University of Paris

Jury :

  • Rapportrice : Aliyah MORGENSTERN (Professeure, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3)
  • Rapportrice : Sarah SCHIMKE (Professeure, Technische Universität Dortmund)
  • Examinateur : Olivier BONAMI (Professeur, Universite? de Paris)
  • Examinatrice : Heather BURNETT (Directrice de Recherche, Université de Paris - CNRS)
  • Examinateur : Christophe PARISSE (Chargé de Recherche, Universite? Paris Nanterre – CNRS, INSERM)
  • Directrice : Barbara HEMFORTH (Directrice de Recherche, Université de Paris – CNRS)

Abstract :

This work investigates the great variability in the production and comprehension of French partial interrogatives, as well as their acquisition. These sentences can be produced with multiple forms and, most notably, the interrogative element can be either after the verb (in situ) or before the verb (fronting, with or without verb-subject inversion).
This variability has been linked to constraints of a syntactic, phonotactic or pragmatic origins, as well as to sociolinguistic factors. Some syntactic theories argue for instance that there is a complexity gradient among interrogative forms, which could explain why French speaking children often seem to first produce in situ forms : under this view, it is the least costly.
After a short introduction in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 shows the need for an update of the available data, for children and adults alike, to develop a multifactorial account of the variation phenomenon. It is also argued that there is a need to refine the very notion of sociolinguistic variation. Alternative linguistic forms allow the user to build and modify their social identity (persona) throughout interaction. Children have to acquire this ability at the same time as they acquire language.
The approach here is data-driven, as explained in Chapter 3, and the analyses presented build upon corpus and experimental results. Chapter 4 is an analysis of modern-day spontaneous and spoken French from the 1960s-2000s (ESLO and EPAC projects). The results show that the use of interrogative forms is specialised, with influences from context formality and from the highly social and goal-oriented nature of language. The various interrogative sentence types are not used interchangeably among all contexts, and some variants are used according to speaker strategies.
These results are then refined with experimental studies. Chapter 5 presents seven experiments with adults. Acceptability judgments are used to assess French speakers’ preferences with respect to the different interrogative forms. With a refined notion of acceptability, they allow for a distinction between "good French", and constructions that should be used in a given context. Three matched-guise tasks further investigate the social stereotypes associated with interrogative forms by adults. From there, a "social sketch" emerges which defines the stereotype of a persona using these variants.
Chapter 6 desribes two studies run with French speaking children. The first study is an adapted version of a study previously run with adults. In a group of 136 children (aged 3-11), it appears some associations between linguistic forms and social sterotypes (richness, hobbies, education) are active from very early on, and evolve over time. The second study is a production task where 68 children (aged 4-9) played a role-playing game. It shows an early capacity to actively adapt the production of interrogatives depending on the context. Even young children display different linguistic behavior in formal or informal contexts. They refine this ability with increasing age.
Data from adults and children, when confronted, argue for a broader perspective in the study of French partial interrogatives and their acquisition. The coexistence of different interrogative forms in French is tied to social aspects, and to stereotypical representations of the people using them. Children are confronted with and impacted by these representations from early childhood, and their linguistic production is impacted as well.