LingLunch : Jan Fliessbac

Thursday 16 March 2023, 12:00 to 13:00
Karen De Clercq et Ira Noveck (LLF)

LLF – Bât. ODG – 5e étage – Salle du conseil (533)

Jan Fliessbach (Universität Potsdam)
On the role of verbs in French partial interrogative syntax

French partial interrogative markers (Q-phrases) can occur preverbally (QV) and postverbally (VQ). This variability has been studied from various sociolinguistic perspectives (Coveney 2011; Elsig 2009; Adli 2013; Thiberge 2020). Yet the designs of these studies did not allow for a detailed investigation of the role of specific verbs for the syntax and pragmatics of the interrogatives such verbs occur in, hypothesized to be important for example by Myers (2007: 78) and Boucher (2010: 111). Using a workflow based on OpusTools (Aulamo et al. 2020), we extracted more than one hundred thousand partial interrogatives from a large parallel corpus of French-Spanish fan-generated film subtitles (Lison & Tiedemann 2016) which represents a close approximation of informal conversations (Levshina 2017). We selected 20 verbs for investigation and found that most of the verbs show a tendency to occur in either QV or VQ, some almost categorically so. Among those verbs that occur in a relevant number of both, we found that different Q-placements correlate with differences in Spanish translations, with QV more often translated with constructions and Pottsian expressives (Potts 2007) that indicate a challenging or negative-evaluative function.


  • Adli, Aria. 2013. Syntactic variation in French Wh-questions: A quantitative study from the angle of Bourdieu's sociocultural theory. Linguistics 51(3). 473–515.
  • Aulamo, Mikko, Umut Sulubacak, Sami Virpioja & Jörg Tiedemann. 2020. OpusTools and Parallel Corpus Diagnostics. 3782–3789.
  • Boucher, Paul. 2010. Wh-questions in French and English: Mapping syntax to information structure. In Carsten Breul & Edward Göbbel (eds.), Comparative and Contrastive Studies of Information Structure (Linguistik aktuell / Linguistics Today 165), 101–138. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Coveney, Aidan. 2011. L'interrogation directe. Travaux de linguistique 63(2). 112–145.
  • Elsig, Martin. 2009. Grammatical variation across space and time: The French interrogative system (Studies in language variation 3). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Levshina, Natalia. 2017. Online film subtitles as a corpus: an n-gram approach. Corpora 12(3). 311–338.
  • Lison, Pierre & Jörg Tiedemann. 2016. OpenSubtitles2016: Extracting Large Parallel Corpora from Movie and TV Subtitles. 923–929.
  • Myers, Lindsy L. 2007. WH-Interrogatives in Spoken French: a Corpus-Based Analysis of their Form and Function. Austin, Texas: The University of Texas Dissertation.
  • Potts, Christopher. 2007. The expressive dimension. Theoretical Linguistics 33(2). 165–198.
  • Thiberge, Gabriel. 2020. Acquisition et maîtrise des interrogatives partielles en français: La variation sociolinguistique comme outil interactionnel. Paris: Université de Paris Doctoral Thesis.