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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton March 4, 2011

A propos from verbal complement to discourse marker: a case of grammaticalization?

  • Sophie Prevost
From the journal


This paper presents an analysis of the evolution of the French preverbal expression à propos (‘by the way’ in Modern French). First I discuss the possibility of analyzing it as a discourse marker. Basing the analysis on Fraser's approach (Journal of Pragmatics 14: 383–395, 1990, Journal of pragmatics 31: 931–952, 1999), I show that à propos falls within the definition of discourse markers, displaying their main characteristics. More specifically it serves to reinforce, or even create, discourse coherence. Secondly I give an account of the historical development of the expression and of the emergence of its pragmatic uses. I argue that it is closely related to the evolution of à ce propos (and to a lesser extent to that of à propos de), and hypothesize that à propos has progressively replaced à ce propos in certain contexts, while also developing in contexts of more abrupt discourse shift. I finally address the issue of the interpretation of à propos as a case of grammaticalization, and show that there are sufficiently convincing arguments to justify its being analyzed as such. I also discuss the relevance of introducing the notion of pragmaticalization, and argue for this being a mere subclass of grammaticalization, though pertaining more specifically to the pragmatic area.

Correspondence address: Lattice-UMR 8094, 1 rue Maurice Arnoux, F-92120 Montrouge, France. E-mail:

Received: 2009-04-05
Revised: 2010-03-09
Published Online: 2011-03-04
Published in Print: 2011-March

© 2011 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/New York

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