Review of Fundamentals of French Syntax
|Date: Tue, 20 Dec 2005 14:23:39 -0500
From: Phaedra Royle
Subject: Fundamentals of French Syntax
AUTHOR: Gledhill, Christopher
TITLE: Fundamentals of French Syntax
SERIES: LINCOM Coursebooks in Linguistics 11
PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH
Phaedra Royle, Ph.D.
School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, Université de
Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada; Research Centre, Sainte-
As stated on the back cover, this book is intended to
provide ''accessible syntax of French as well as grounding in the
fundamental principles of syntactic theory, unhindered by
considerations of theory and cross-linguistic comparisons. The aim is
to describe modern French in breadth rather than to analyse problems
of theory in depth.... After studying this book, learners should be able
to move on to books both in generative theory and comparative studies of
French and other Romance languages...''. In the Preface, Gledhill restates
the aims of the book which are ''to describe a single model of syntax and
then to analyse a variety of structures in French using the model as a
rough starting point.'' (p. 4) The model used to describe French is the
one outlined in Radford (1997) that is X-bar theory and minimalism.
However, following structuralist tradition, Gledhill assumes that the
surface form of the sentence corresponds closely to [underlying]
syntactic structure. For example, he analyses lexical phrases, such
as 'pomme de terre' 'potato', as phraseological constructions.
This book can be used in a B.A. level class on French syntax.
However, the teacher might want to supplement it with other more
classical readings on X-bar syntax. Because the domains of X-bar and
Hallidayan analyses are not well delimited in the text, students may
become confused as to which is which.
The book contains a Preface and six main chapters: 1 Grammar and
Syntax; 2 Phrases; 3 Clauses; 4 Advanced Phrases; 5 Advanced
Clauses; 6 Topics in French Syntax. Each chapter is followed by a
section with exercises and one with answers and discussion notes.
There is a Glossary containing a Lexicon describing syntactic
abbreviations, a section on Functional Symbols and another with
examples of Hallidayan Analysis. The book concludes with a
Chapter One outlines the domain of inquiry of this book. It begins with
a definition of syntax, sets out the differences between prescriptive
and descriptive grammars and presents some basic tenets of
generative grammar. Gledhill adds the less traditional (in syntax)
domain of phraseology -- the study of idioms -- to his line of research;
he includes lexical phrases within the domain of phraseology.
Chapter Two presents basic French phrase structures (S, NP, VP,
etc) and vocabulary for their composite elements, along with tables
describing different noun types and article functions.
Chapter Three outlines the structures of co-ordinate, subordinate,
dependant, relative and complement clause structures in French.
Chapter Four introduces of X-bar theory, NP and VP arguments,
determiners and pronouns and the concept of Functional Group (FG),
which Gledhill proposes as shorthand for INFL, etc, and which is the
repository of such elements as ne (NEG), proclitics, 'en', 'y,' and 'se'
In Chapter, Five Gledhill acknowledges that spoken and written
French differ enormously, and presents examples of syntactic
structures that cannot be described within the previously outlined
framework, which has traditionally been based on more formal
versions of French. In particular, he discusses ''discontinuities'' that
can break up the flow of speech. Although these have traditionally
been viewed as performance issues, they have been studied by
Blanche-Benveniste (1996) in a discourse analysis context. This
approach has led syntacticians to note that some phrasal units are
more solidly linked than others. The chapter therefore focuses on
some of these. A section on thematic structure discusses theme and
rheme (Topic/Comment). Another section is devoted to Dislocation
and Cleft clauses, and yet another focuses on interrogatives. There
are sections on control and raising clauses, on causatives
with 'faire' 'to do' (as in 'Elle l'a fait manger' 'She made it/her/him eat'),
on expansion and projection, which is a presentation of Halliday's
approach to control and raising, and lastly on extrapolation and
The final Chapter, entitled Topics in French Syntax, reviews a number
of previously published books on French Syntax and presents a brief
history of French linguistics. Gledhill discusses the question of
register, which is extremely significant in French linguistics. In addition,
he mentions a number of ways in which the study of naturalistic
corpora has changed the syntactic analysis of French (e.g., clitics,
topicalisation, negatives, and so on).
A final section presents further reading on syntax and other
When discussing the fact that grammar and morphology seem to
operate similarly in English and French, albeit with some differences
(p. 8) Gledhill asserts ''There is no syntactic rule which states that all
French sentences must follow the sequence Subject Verb Adverb
Object, and so we refer to the term *pattern* to represent a general
syntactic tendency rather than a fixed sequence.'' Yet, as the author
had just stated in a previous sentence, one cannot separate the
subject and verb with an adverb such as 'toujours' ''always'' (see a,
below). This is not due to word order patterns but rather because, in
French, the proclitic pronoun cannot be separated from the verb by
another element. For example, the adverb can appear before the
proclitic or after the direct object, as in (b) and (c). The author seems
to be missing an important generalization about French, that the verb
cannot be separated from its pronoun clitic.
(a) Je *toujours boire toujours du café 'I always drink coffee'
(b) Toujours, je bois du café
(c) Je bois du café toujours
One might want to argue that it is in fact possible to separate the
proclitic from the verb by inserting a negative 'ne' between the two.
However, this is a feature of only certain prestigious varieties of
French, and even then is variable. (It is stable only in written French).
When discussing the issue of *communicative competence* (i.e.,
sensitivity to linguistic variation and use of this in context), Gledhill
discusses *variables*, that is, the possibility of using different syntactic
structures for the same communicative purposes. He gives the
example of questions, which can be produced in French by many
different means (some non-syntactic). In this context he states
that ''[...] the [inverted] interrogative ('que dis-tu?' ['what are you
saying?']) serves to distinguish the dialect of Quebec French from
European French, since in Quebec, inversion is more widely used in
all types of speech'' (p.12). In fact, it is exactly the contrary. Inverted
questions are marked in Quebec French as being highly formal.
Quebec French does not usually make use of inversion to form
questions. Rather, a non-syntactic rising tone or an enclitic 'tu' are
preferred. The enclitic is not an inversed agreement marker, since it
can appear concurrently with proclitics of all persons and numbers (d-
f) (except 'nous' 'we.pl', but this might be related to register, as it
appears with 'on' 'we.pl' which is used in the place of 'nous' in
colloquial French). In addition, it can be found with an overt subject
AND a pronoun clitic (j), so it cannot be interpreted as a form of clitic
(d) Je mange-tu? 'am I eating?'
(e) Tu manges-tu? 'are you eating?'
(f) Il mange-tu? 'is he eating?'
(g) On mange-tu? 'are we eating?
(h) Vous mangez-tu? 'are you eating?'
(i) Ils mangent-tu? 'are they eating?'
(j) Élise, a mange-tu? 'Élise, is she eating?'
It therefore seems that some aspects of French syntax are
inadequately described in this book.
Another unsettling aspect of this book is that although Gledhill
purports to assume X-bar syntax, he initially draws trees with more
than two branches. For example, on page 36, 'Plusieurs grandes
personalités sont arrivées' ''Many great personalities have arrived'', is
drawn with an NP with three daughters, D, AP and N. He later assigns
similar syntactic structures to coordinate, subordinate and relative
clauses, where again, three elements are daughters of a common
mother node. Only when he gets to Chapter 5, Advanced Clauses,
does he discuss the consequences of using X-bar theory and begin to
draw appropriate trees. This can be confusing for students. I have
found it better to lay the rules of X-bar theory down first and then use
them consistently for more and more complex structures (CP, IP etc.).
Finally, although this book is intended for advanced students of
French syntax, Gledhill uses the shorthand *Functional Group* as a
rough equivalent of IP, and neglects to thoroughly investigate the
various permutations this ''group'' exhibits in French, where subject
and object clitics as well as negation (in more formal dialects) are
found before the auxiliary or the tensed verb. The functional
projections above VP and below CP are therefore quite complex. In
this book, we alternatively find in Spec of FG, a pro subject (clitic), a
pro object (clitic), NEG, a tensed AUX, reflexive pro, or a number of
these (as in 'George ne les a pas encore vus' ''George did not yet see
them'', where we find 'ne les a' all at the same level as daughters of
FG) (p. 95). In addition FG is in Spec of VP and sister of V' rather than
in a higher position, as is traditionally held in X-bar syntax. However,
even this is not consistent throughout the text, since in some of the
trees, clitic pronouns are under NP in Spec of S rather than FG.
Final comments: The bibliography is somewhat sparse. References to
a number of eminent recent works by authors focussing on Romance
languages or French (e.g., Belletti & Rizzi, 1996; Cinque, 1994;
Legendre, 1994; Müller 2002; Roehrs & Labelle, 2003; Tellier, 2003;
Valois, 1991, 1996; Vinet, 2001) are not included. There is no
subject index. A few typos were found. Lastly, at 50 US dollars for only
190 pages, the book is overpriced.
To sum up, this book should be used with caution. Although I am not
primarily a syntactician, as a teacher of an introduction to linguistics
course, I found this book more confusing than helpful.
Belletti, A. & Rizzi, L. (1996). Parameters and Functional Heads:
Essays in Comparative Syntax. New York, NY: Oxford U Press.
Blanche Benveniste, C. (1997). Approches de la langue parlée. Paris:
Cinque, G. (1994). On evidence for partial N-movement in the
Romance DP. In G. Cinque, J. Koster, J.-Y. Pollock, L. Rizzi & R.
Zanuttini (Eds.), Paths towards Universal Grammar (pp. 85-110).
Georgetown: Georgetown University Press.
Legendre, G. (1994). Topics in French Syntax. New York, NY:
Müller, C. (2002). Les bases de la syntaxe : syntaxe contrastive.
Pessac: Presses universitaires de Bordeaux.
Picard, M. (1992). Aspects synchroniques et diachroniques du tu
interrogatif en québécois. Revue québécoise de linguistique, 21, 2, 65-
Radford, A. (1997) Syntactic Theory and the Structure of English.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roehrs, D., & Labelle, M. (2003) The Left Periphery in Child French:
Evidence for a Simply-Split CP. In Quer, J., Schroten, J., Scorretti, M.,
Sleeman, P., & Verheugd, E. (Eds.) Romance Languages and
Linguistic Theory: Selected Papers from 'Going Romance' 2001,
Amsterdam 6-8 December, 2001. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp
Tellier C. (2003). Éléments de syntaxe du français : méthodes
d'analyse en grammaire générative. 2e éd. Boucherville, Québec : G.
Valois, D. (1991 ). The Internal Syntax of DP. Ph.D. Disseration.
UCLA disserations in linguistics.
Valois, D. (1996). On the Structure of the French DP. The Canadian
Journal of Linguistics/La Revue canadienne de Linguistique, 41, 349-
Vinet, M.-T. (2001). D'un français à l'autre : la syntaxe de la
micronarration. Montréal: Fides.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Phaedra Royle holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the Université de
Montréal. Her interests lie in psycholinguistics, language disorders
(Specific Language Impairment), language acquisition and
morphology. Her thesis investigated lexical access in language-
impaired French-speaking adolescents and adults. Her postdoctoral
research focused on early verb acquisition in French-speaking
children with and without language delay at the School of
Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University. She is
presently carrying out research on language acquisition and
processing in French-Speaking populations with and without language
disorders, and teaching at the School of Speech Language Pathology
and Audiology at Université de Montréal.