Linguistics at Newcastle

Event Items

The French Question

Inaugural Lecture - Richard Waltereit, Newcastle University

Date/Time: 8th December 2016, 16:00 - 17:00

Venue: Room 2.22 Research Beehive

This is the Inaugural lecture by Professor Richard Waltereit and following the lecture the will be a drinks reception and buffet in the Courtyard Dining room, Old Library Building from 5:00pm. All welcome!

Standard French wh-questions can come in a choice of “short” (1) vs “long” (2) forms (Hansen 2016):

(1)          Qui est venu? ‘Who has arrived?’

(2)          Qui est-ce qui est venu? ‘Who has arrived?’

There are also “extra-long” (3) alternatives to long forms:

(3)          Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça? ‘What on Earth is this?’

(4)          Qu’est-ce que c’est? ‘What is this?’

The short and long forms as in (1) and (2) are widely assumed to be synonymous. By contrast, the extra-long form as in (3) marks a wh-question where there is no contextually established or available set from which to choose an answer.

In Old French, the choice between the short and long forms existed as well. However, the forms weren’t synonymous then; they were contrasting in a similar way to the contrast between today’s long and extra-long forms in (3) and (4)  (Foulet 1921: 253). Based on diachronic corpus research (Base de français médiéval, Frantext), I will explore the hypothesis that the erstwhile contrast between short and long forms wore down, only to be replaced with a contrast between long and extra-long forms.