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Title: French il y a & c’est clefts: a corpus-based analysis of their Information Structure
Authors: Karssenberg, Lena
Lahousse, Karen
Issue Date: 3-Sep-2015
Conference: SLE edition:48 location:Leiden date:2-5 September 2015
Abstract: French il y a & c’est clefts: a corpus-based analysis of their Information Structure Lena Karssenberg & Karen Lahousse, KU Leuven
Whereas the well-studied c’est-cleft (1) is prototypically associated with a focus-background (value-variable, ‘specificational’) interpretation, il y a-clefts (2) are usually said to have an all-focus (‘presentational’) interpretation (Lambrecht 2000).
(1) Q: Who’s singing? A: C’est Louis qui chante.
(2) Q: What’s happening? A: Il y a mon chef qui arrive.
Il y a-clefts are relatively under-researched and have not yet been described on the basis of corpus research.
2. GOAL
In this talk we will challenge two hypotheses in previous literature concerning clefts: (i) we will show that il y a-clefts do not only have an all-focus interpretation, but, just as c’est-clefts, instantiate three possible Information Structure (IS)- articulations and (ii) that the specific IS-articulation of a cleft correlates with the presence/absence of an existential presupposition.
3. INFORMATION STRUCTURE
3.1. Il y a-clefts. Our extensive corpus research in formal and informal written (Le Monde, YCCQA online forum) and informal spoken (CFFP) French shows (i) that, besides an all-focus articulation, il y a-clefts also (i) frequently express focus-background (3) (see also Davidse 1999/2014 on there-clefts) and (ii) that they can even have a (contrastive) topic- comment articulation (4):
(3) Q: Quelle est votre meilleure série du moment?
A: "How I Met Your Mother" c'est génial, y'a aussi "Lost" qui est bien (YCCQA)
(4) Ya les gens normaux qui doivent se lever a 10h ou midi et aller au lycée pour la rentrée. Et ya moi qui doit se lever à
4h du matin pour aller a mon lycée sport étude ! (www)
3.2 C’est-clefts. Besides focus-background (1), c’est-clefts can also express all-focus (Doetjes et al. 2004) (5). Moreover, we show that informative-presupposition clefts (Prince 1978, Dufter 2008) (6) have a topic-comment articulation.
(5) Sous le sommet en surplomb d'une falaise (...), un peintre amateur attend, rêvant de pouvoir dessiner un corbeau
d'une espèce rare. Mais soudain c'est une jeune femme qui tombe dans le vide sous ses yeux. (www)
(6) [tourist guide on Berlin] C’est dans la section est, autrefois la partie soviétique, que j’ai été le plus charmé (...). De
plus, c’est là que vous décèlerez les principaux clubs, bars et discothèques. (www)
Thus, surprisingly, both c’est-clefts and il y a-clefts can express all three possible IS-articulations defined in Lambrecht (1994): all-focus, topic-comment, focus-background.
4. EXISTENTIAL PRESUPPOSITION (EP)
According to Reeve (2012) a.o., focus-background it-clefts presuppose the existence of a value that holds for the variable in the cleft relative clause. We show that, in French, this indeed holds for focus-background c’est-clefts (8) and focus-background il y a clefts, but not for all-focus (9) and topic-comment c’est and il y a clefts.
(8) a. In (3): at least one TV show is good = presupposed
b. In (1): someone is singing = presupposed
(9) a. In (2): at least one person is coming ≠ presupposed b. In (5): someone falls into the depths ≠ presupposed
We conclude that the presence/absence of an EP correlates with the IS-articulation of the cleft.
REFERENCES
Davidse, K. (1999). The semantics of cardinal versus enumerative existential constructions. Cognitive Linguistics, 10(3), 203–250.
Davidse, K. (2014). On specificational there-clefts (pp. 1–34). Retrieved from http://www.arts.kuleuven.be/ling/workingpapers/papers/pdf-files/lwpl15
Dufter, A. (2008). On explaining the rise of c’est-clefts in French. In U. Detges & R. Waltereit (Eds.), The paradox of grammatical change: perspectives from Romance (pp. 31–56). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Lambrecht, K. (2000). Prédication seconde et structure informationnelle : la relative de perception comme construction présentative. Langue Française, 127(1), 49–66.
Prince, E. F. (1978). A Comparison of Wh-Clefts and it-Clefts in Discourse. Language, 54(4), 883–906. Reeve, M. (2012). Clefts and their relatives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Comparative, Historical and Applied Linguistics, Leuven

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