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French Interrogatives: An analysis of the morpho-syntax and intonation of question forms in reality TV shows and audio books

  • Janina Reinhardt (Universität Konstanz)
Wednesday 19 April 2017
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 1
2311 BZ Leiden


In this talk, I will present the methodology and some results of two studies I am conducting for my doctoral thesis. Both studies are an attempt to bring together observations on morpho-syntactical and intonational variation in French direct interrogatives. The main goal is to find correlations between form and function, i.e. interdependencies between morpho-syntactic types, intonational realisations, and discourse functions.

In the first study, the morpho-syntactically marked direct interrogatives of ten reality TV shows (e.g. Un dîner presque parfait) have been manually extracted and annotated. For each of the shows, I took a sample of three episodes, such that the whole corpus amounts to more than 20 hours of speech (and presumably about 3000 interrogatives). Although data collection and annotation is not yet finished, the following tendencies can already be seen: Inverted structures are almost exclusively used in comments by the off-voice. In spontaneous interactions, and even in the cases in which the off-voice is directly addressing a candidate, declarative structures prevail. As for rising vs. falling intonation, there also seems a tendency to use rising intonation in direct information-eliciting, and falling intonation in self-addressed questions or other more indirect interactions.

In the second study, the direct interrogatives of nine contemporary detective novels are examined. For that purpose, all e-book sentences ending in a question mark have been extracted and morpho-syntactically annotated by a Perl script. Then, the distribution of the 7308 interrogatives was explored and compared to previous corpus studies. In a second step, all 204 où-interrogatives and comparable samples of morpho-syntactically marked and unmarked yes/no-interrogatives were taken from audio book versions. Currently, the oralised written interrogatives are manually annotated in detail (e.g. position of où, author, sex of reader, nuclear configuration), and statistically analysed. First results for où-interrogatives suggest that the position of où has an impact on intonational realisation, but that there is no 1:1-correlation, such as “wh-in-situ questions are rising”. Interestingly, the number of syllables before and after où as well as the type of event (B-event vs. non-B-event) seem to have the greatest influence.

In both studies, there seems to be a trend for declarative structures & rising intonation in direct interactions, and falling intonation & morpho-syntactically marked structures in non-direct interactions.

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