WH-interrogatives in spoken French: a corpus-based analysis of their form and function
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An intriguing aspect of the French language is its complex system of interrogative structures; there exist many question variants to express the same content. For example, Où est-ce que tu vas? Où tu vas? C'est où que tu vas? Où c'est que tu vas? and Tu vas où? are potentially all ways of expressing "Where are you going?" In this dissertation, I examine the use of WH-questions from the Barnes-Blyth Corpus (1984) of Spoken French. Coveney (2002) contributed one of the first truly comprehensive studies on variation of interrogatives in Spoken French. This dissertation builds upon his work by contributing more in depth pragmatic analyses plus a more complete investigation of the system at play. My study begins with a WH-question inventory, categorization and description of structures found in the corpus and elsewhere when appropriate. In contrast to studies attributing variation to socio-stylistic choices, according to the data in this study, there is structural diversity of French interrogative structures within a single socio-stylistic context explainable by pragmatic differences. Therefore, Lambrecht's (1994) information structure framework is applied to the interrogatives in the corpus. Interrogatives prove to be a complicated case for information structure analysis; only the activation of the open proposition serves as a useful indicator of question structure choice. Highly active open propositions are often realized with in situ structures whereas inactive open propositions are often realized with fronted structures. These findings are consistent with initial observations by Coveney. Further, I examine the system involved in interrogative choice, which incorporates many areas of grammar including pragmatics, socio-stylistics, syntax and semantics. I propose the concept of answerability as an umbrella term to explain several seemingly diverse factors affecting WH-questions use. I explore the application of Optimality Theory to contextualized interrogative choices since it permits a complete analysis by allowing a combination of constraints from the various pertinent components of grammar. In conclusion, by implementing this combination of analyses, I not only contribute to the long-standing discussion regarding interrogative structure usage in French, but I also clarify the explanatory power of pragmatics and Optimality Theory for this particularly complex system.