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Review of  Le Déterminant Démonstratif en Français et en Néerlandais

Reviewer: Jan Schroten
Book Title: Le Déterminant Démonstratif en Français et en Néerlandais
Book Author: Gudrun Vanderbauwhede
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): Dutch
Issue Number: 24.2684

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This is a corpus-based study on the use of the French demonstrative determiners ‘ce’ / ‘cet’ / ‘cette’ / ‘ces’ + Noun (+ proximate ‘-ci’ or distal ‘-là’) and the Dutch demonstrative determiners: proximate ‘deze’ / ‘dit’ and distal ‘die’ / ‘dat’. The uses of demonstrative Noun Phrases, that is, Noun Phrases with a demonstrative determiner, are analyzed and classified according to semantic and discourse properties. The differences between French and Dutch in the uses and properties of demonstrative Noun Phrases are the central part of this study. These are compared in corpora of the same size: for each language, one independent corpus, based on texts about comparable topics in the same style, one corpus based on translated texts, and another based on texts produced by L-2 learners: native speakers of French acquiring Dutch and native speakers of Dutch acquiring French.

The first part of the study presents in detail previous research on demonstrative Noun Phrases in French and in Dutch, and a comparison of the properties of French and Dutch demonstrative Noun Phrases. The author carefully describes the model used for analysis. Thus, there is extensive and detailed treatment of differences and similarities in existing analyses and approaches. Then, the “synthetic model” that has been chosen and elaborated is presented in great detail. This basically referential model is used in the analysis of the French and Dutch corpora taken into account. The approach is based also on studies of English and linguistic manuals dealing with English demonstrative Noun Phrases, with the proximate demonstrative determiner ‘this’ / ‘these’ and the non-proximate or distal demonstrative determiner ‘that’ / ‘those’. The “synthetic model” is ultimately a classification of the referential uses with respect to the situation in which they are used, which determines the referential values of the demonstrative Noun Phrases.

Most of the description and evaluation of existing approaches to demonstratives in French and Dutch, with some attention to approaches based on the study of English demonstratives, attempts to resolve mismatches in terminology and theory-driven differences. The synthetic model proposed clarifies or resolves the difficulties found in existing studies and the parts dedicated to demonstratives in various manuals and textbooks.

There has been much more previous work on French than on Dutch. The well-known fact that there are differences in the use of demonstrative NPs in French and in Dutch raises the question which different uses are found in both languages and how they can be accounted for. The basic differences treated here are based on referential values in different situations, such as deictic use (that is, giving reference by pointing to the context of communication), anaphoric use (that is, giving reference by taking an antecedent), memorial use (that is, giving reference to things in the world that the speaker and addressee have in common in memory), and nine other, less central uses stated and defined on pp. 122-123. Demonstrative determiners turn out to be definite, which raises the question of differences between them and the definite article or other definite determiners.

The deictic point not treated in this study is that the proximate vs. distal interpretation of the demonstrative pronouns ‘ceci’ / ‘celà’ in French, usually only ‘ce’ / ‘cet’ / ‘cette’ / ‘ces’, with “omission” of proximate ‘ci’ and distal ‘là’ in the use of the demonstrative determiner, is different from the proximate - distal opposition in proximate ‘deze’ / ‘dit’ and distal ‘die’ / ‘dat’ found in Dutch, which cannot be “omitted”.

In previous work, much attention has been given to the observations on the properties of demonstrative Noun Phrases which have coreferential and anaphoric or cataphoric interpretation in appropriate contexts. In this work, the basic referential uses that have been taken into account are: (i) situational use; (ii) anaphoric use; (iii) deictic use in discourse; (iv) memorial use based on “common memory” shared by the speaker and the addressee(s).

As noted above, the analysis is based on the analysis of three types of corpora. The first type consists of two parallel contrastive corpora, based on translations. French texts that have been translated to Dutch produce two parallel corpora: the “original” French corpus, which is the source of the Dutch “translation corpus”. Dutch texts that have been translated to French are the basis of an “original” Dutch corpus, which is the source of the French “translation corpus”. In translation, a Dutch demonstrative determiner is sometimes found as a definite article in French, and the French demonstrative determiner in the “original” is a definite article in the Dutch translation. For example, French “ces dernières années” (= these last years) corresponds to “de laatste jaren” (= the last years) in Dutch, as shown on p. 9 (7). And there are more differences, like choosing a quite different type of determiner or construction.

The second type includes a “monolingual” French corpus and a “monolingual” Dutch corpus. The corpora are not related, but are comparable. The texts are characterized as 20% non-fictional, 20% journalistic, 10% informative, 25% written debates, 25% fictional texts. The use of demonstrative NPs is given in numbers and percentages. The overall number is higher in French -- 978 -- than in Dutch -759. The percentage found in written debates is higher in Dutch than in French: 37,29% vs. 25,26%. The referential use is analyzed and given in quantitative detail.

The third type is “acquisitional”: a corpus of Dutch as written in exercises by people with French as mother tongue learning Dutch and a corpus of French as written by people with Dutch as mother tongue learning French. Two steps are taken in the analysis of these acquisitional corpora. The first is the presentation of the data, including the number of demonstrative Noun Phrases in each corpus and the subtypes as given in the model and their use in numbers. The second step is the analysis of the errors / mistakes that the learners have made. The morphological errors have been easy to find. The incorrect use of ‘ci’ / ‘ça’ and other aberrant or incorrect uses require native speaker judgments and this has been done.

The descriptive part of this book, based on studies of the use and meaning of demonstratives in French and in Dutch, is extensive and detailed, due to the considerable number of studies on various aspects of French demonstratives that have been published. A more direct presentation of the “synthetic model” the author adopts would have made it possible to account for the differences across previous research without spending time on various unimportant details. For example, the history of the demonstratives is not at stake, but is nonetheless discussed in some parts of the introductory chapters.

A very clear explanation is given of the use of the corpora and their contents, the data that have been used and the aspects that have been investigated. The reader can understand exactly what has been hypothesized, analyzed and investigated. The very clear facts are separated from the fuzzier aspects shown and discussed in the analysis.

As far as possible, the use of demonstrative Noun Phrases by native speakers has been shown for French and Dutch in a clear and comparable fashion. Differences between original texts and their translations are presented in a clear fashion in both directions. The use of demonstratives by Dutch L2-learners of French and by French L2-learners of Dutch found in two corpora are analyzed in useful detail. The errors in these acquisition texts are analyzed and discussed with much clarity.

In short, the investigation is presented in a useful way, the discussion of the data is clear, and the conclusions are readily understandable. The study’s weak point is that the number of demonstrative Noun Phrases that have been found is not very high, making percentages of different uses not very convincing numerically.

Given the fact that the corpora are built exclusively on written texts, the treatment is valid for written French and Dutch, and the study of spoken texts remains to be done. This is possibly part of the reason why emotive value in the use of demonstratives, which is indicated but not elaborated on, has been given little attention.

Overall, this is a valuable study. The analysis of the corpora that have been used stresses the point that comparison of languages as to the use of demonstratives should take into account non-use as well.
Jan Schroten is an emeritus associate professor, doing research at UiL-OTS of Utrecht University. He took his Ph.D. from Utrecht University and taught Spanish linguistics at the same university. His publications have dealt with syntactic, morphological and lexical properties of Spanish, usually taking into account related phenomena in other Romance languages and in Germanic languages, in the context of generative linguistics.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9783034312523
Pages: 383
Prices: U.S. $ 109.95
U.K. £ 67.00