Clefts in context: A QUD-perspective on c’est / il y a utterances in spoken French


  • Alessia Cassarà University of Cologne
  • Aria Adli
  • Lena Karssenberg


In this paper we present the results of a pragmatic analysis of French full clefts and monoclausal c’est/il y a utterances (e.g. c’est la femme qui l’a tué ‘it’s the wife who killed him’ vs. c’est la femme ‘it’s the wife’ respectively in answer to the question ‘who killed him?’), when these structures are used as pragmatic strategies to focalize the subject in spoken French. Unlike full cleft sentences, monoclausal c’est and il y a utterances have received less attention in the literature, especially with regard to focus and its realization in spontaneous speech. Investigating the opposition between full clefts and monoclausal forms as well as the questions that these clefts answer allows us to arrive at a more precise understanding of the discourse functions of these structures and the pragmatic contexts in which they are felicitous. The corpus that is used (sgs, spontaneous spoken French) contains many question-answer pairs due to its interactive setup, thus enabling a clear analysis of the types of Question Under Discussion that the clefts answer. The data show that monoclausal utterances are more likely to answer highly active QUDs, whereas full clefts are more likely to answer less active QUDs. The level of activation is determined in terms of proximity and implicitness of the QUD (immediately-preceding the cleft, further away or implicit), and - when the question is uttered explicitly - modality (wh or yes/no) also plays a role.


cleft, French, Question Under Discussion, information structure, focus


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