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The information structure of French il y a clefts and c’est clefts: A corpus-based analysis

Lena Karssenberg and Karen Lahousse
From the journal Linguistics

Abstract

This article investigates the distributional and information structural (IS) properties of il y a ‘there is’ clefts in comparison with c’est ‘it is’ clefts in French. Il y a clefts, which are prototypically said to be “presentational” or express all-focus, are relatively under-researched with respect to c’est clefts. We present the results of an extensive corpus study of il y a clefts in three different registers, revealing that these clefts most often express an all-focus articulation, but also quite often express a focus-background articulation, which has not been acknowledged often in the linguistic literature. Moreover, the corpora contain contrastive il y a clefts (displaying properties of both all-focus and topic-comment sentences), which to our knowledge have not been noticed before. It follows from these data that although c’est and il y a clefts can both express all-focus and focus-background, they clearly differ with respect to the topic-comment articulation and have specialized for different functions. Finally, several syntactic and pragmatic factors are presented that may account for the (distributive) differences between the two cleft types, e.g., the impossibility of non-(pro)nominal clefted elements in il y a clefts, genre differences, and the implication of exhaustivity.

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by FWO grant G061113N (Research Foundation Flanders).

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Published Online: 2018-06-02
Published in Print: 2018-06-26

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