The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling Lunch 9/6: Richard Faure

Speaker: Richard Faure (Université Côte d’Azur, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, CNRS and Harvard University)
Title:Wh-fronting is not wh-movement in colloquial French
Date and time: Thursday, 9/6, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

French is said to be one of those languages that have the option to form wh-questions with in-situ (1a) or ex-situ whPs (1c). It is also assumed to have optional subject-verb inversion (1d). Moreover, wh-in-situ structures come actually in two guises, with or without a prosodic break before the whP (1a vs. 1b), a fact little addressed in the literature.

(1) a. Il   a     vu     qui?
         he has seen who
     b. Il   a     vu |  qui?
        he has seen who
     c. Qui  il    a     vu?
        who he has seen
    d. Qui a-t-  il   vu?
       who has  he seen

Starting with these four patterns, I will show that 1) not every pattern belongs to the same variety of French, 2) wh-in-situ questions with a prosodic break, but not those without it pattern with wh-ex-situ in many respects (a source of much confusion in the previous studies): Intervention effects, expressivity, contrastive contexts. Focusing then on colloquial French and the patterns illustrated by (1a) (with no prosodic break) and (1c), I will show that questions like (1c) do not display all the features of wh-movement (e.g., no superiority effect in multiple questions), and claim that colloquial French is actually a bona fide wh-in-situ language, so that wh-fronting is not wh-movement. Finally I address the question as to what triggers wh-fronting in this variety of French and tentatively suggest that it is an Exclusion feature.