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Review of  French Dislocation

Reviewer: Robert V Reichle
Book Title: French Dislocation
Book Author: Cécile de Cat
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Subject Language(s): French
Issue Number: 21.2675

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AUTHOR: De Cat, Cécile
TITLE: French Dislocation
SUBTITLE: Interpretation, Syntax, Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2007 (hardcover), 2009 (paperback)

Robert V. Reichle, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Northern
Illinois University


This book aims to account for the syntax, interpretation, information structure,
and acquisition of French right and left dislocations. De Cat explores this
phenomenon using empirical data from the York and Cat corpora, which contain
spontaneous and elicited spoken data from children and adults from France,
Belgium and Quebec. The book systematically addresses the identification of
dislocations, their interpretation as markers of topic, their syntax, and their
acquisition in child learners of French as a first language.

After a brief introduction, the work begins in earnest with a discussion of
diagnostics for dislocated elements (Chapter 2). De Cat first limits the scope
of inquiry to informal spoken French, contrasting it with Standard French and
Zribi-Hertz's (1994) Advanced French. Much of the chapter is dedicated to
arguing for a syntactic (as opposed to morphological) analysis of French subject
clitics. The chapter continues with a discussion of the prosodic characteristics
of dislocation in French, first focusing on the prosodic contours of right
dislocations, and then discussing those observed for left dislocations. Relevant
examples from the corpora provide evidence for different prosodic signatures for
the two types of dislocation, with left dislocation having a prominent peak in
intonation at the end of the dislocated element, and right dislocation
displaying a variety of prosodic signatures. The author concludes the chapter by
pointing out that, as a consequence of these prosodic and syntactic
characteristics, dislocations are not essential to the well-formedness of a
sentence, and can even be removed altogether without rendering the sentence

Chapter 3 frames the investigation of dislocations within the larger context of
information structure. First addressing the notion of topic, the author presents
several definitions that have previously been proposed, from those based on the
'aboutness' of a sentence to Reinhart's (1981) file card metaphor for relating
predications to topics. The ensuing discussion of topics touches on such
properties as their newness and relevance. The crux of the chapter is a
demonstration of the topichood of dislocated phonologically non-weak elements in
spoken French, with special attention given to the case of indefinites as topics
(specifically, indefinites introduced by presentational constructions). The
chapter concludes with observations about the status of French as a
discourse-configurational language, using the presentational 'il y a'
construction as an example of a thetic statement being realized in a specialized
syntactic structure.

In Chapter 4, De Cat argues for a generative analysis of right and left
dislocation as a single unified syntactic phenomenon. The proposed analysis
considers dislocated elements as adjoined by first-merge to a maximal projection
with root properties (p. 149), and proposes no syntactic movement, agreement or
feature checking. After touching on prior analyses of which elements (if any)
move in narrow syntax for right and left dislocation, De Cat addresses the
question of resumptive elements in French left dislocation. Special cases of
dislocation are also discussed, such as 'very local' right dislocation
(consisting in French of 'de' + a bare noun). In arguing that French left
dislocation is insensitive to strong islands, De Cat presents results from two
acceptability judgment tasks. She concludes that dislocated elements mark the
topic of the utterance, that a resumptive element can be found within an island,
and that dislocations do not involve movement as they do not license parasitic
gaps, do not create weak crossover or minimality effects, and are not
reinterpreted via reconstruction (p. 169).

Chapter 5 primarily addresses three questions: whether child acquisition data
can inform the analysis of dislocations in adults; the degree of target-likeness
in early dislocation data; and learnability and the initial state of the child's
grammar as they relate to dislocations. Approaching these questions with the
assumption that the child makes limited use of UG from the earliest stages of
acquisition, the author applies the relevant diagnostics for dislocation
developed earlier in the book to identify dislocations in corpus data from four
French-speaking children. Of the previously developed diagnostics (omissability,
presence of a resumptive element, word order, context, and prosody), particular
attention is given to context and prosody with respect to the child data. De Cat
argues that the children in her corpora used dislocations productively before
the implementation of the Complementizer Phrase (CP) layer. In discussing the
sentence fragments present in the corpus data, the author argues for an analysis
under which fragments only contain as much structure as is seen in their overt
structure (i.e., ''what you see is what you get'', p. 200). Finally, De Cat
presents positive evidence that children productively employ right and left
dislocation at an early age in the same way adults do to mark topic.

After a summary of conclusions, three appendices summarize the empirical
findings used to support the author's analyses. Appendix A presents data from
the adult speakers in the York and Cat corpora. Appendix B discusses the child
data from the same corpora. Appendix C details the judgment elicitation tasks
mentioned in Chapter 4.


This volume contributes to the study of spoken French on three levels. Foremost,
the fact that De Cat has written such a thorough and well supported analysis of
a complex and often overlooked feature of spoken French is significant in and of
itself. As she rightfully points out in Chapter 2, numerous factors (e.g. the
distinction between spoken and written French, dialect and register differences,
conflicting accounts of the syntax and prosody of dislocation, etc.) have long
led to difficulty in demarcating the phenomenon under investigation. Despite
this obstacle, De Cat clearly and succinctly shows when and why French
dislocation is relevant.

Secondly, this work provides a coherent syntactic analysis of dislocation, and
this account is strengthened by the fact that it relies equally on syntactic
diagnostics as well as corpus and judgment data. As the information structural
similarities between right and left dislocation in French have long been known,
it is satisfying to see an analysis of their syntax that treats them as one and
the same phenomenon.

Thirdly, while this work will be of the greatest interest to those concerned
with a generative account of the syntax of French dislocation, it will also be
worthwhile to the growing number of scholars engaged in experimental research on
the processing and acquisition of information structure. The author is primarily
concerned with the theoretical implications of her findings, and therefore the
empirical evidence plays a supporting role in the main body of the book.
However, the appendices offer much more detail about her corpus-based and
experimental evidence, and should provide those interested in these methods of
research with an exciting picture of current and future directions for research.

That being said, there are some minor shortcomings. In the discussion of a
syntactic versus morphological analysis of French subject clitics, De Cat cites
the productivity and distribution of the negative particle 'ne' as evidence
against Auger's (1994) analysis of clitics as agreement morphemes. In claiming
that 'ne' is more productive in spoken French than has been previously argued,
De Cat states that it was used productively by the speakers in the York and Cat
corpora. However, the examples provided are not fully convincing, and her
argument would have been better served by more examples taken directly from the
corpora. Similarly, the context of certain examples used to support other
arguments is occasionally unclear in the text. The two judgment tasks signal a
laudable effort to support the author's arguments with quantitative data
elicited from a large number of native speakers (thirty-two in the first task,
seventy-five in the second). Unfortunately, the results from these tasks are not
always presented clearly, with crucial information relating to the procedure and
results split between the body of the book and an appendix. Additionally, the
small number of items tested do not uniformly control for syntactic structure.
While a more in-depth analysis and a larger number of items tested would have
been preferable, the included judgment tasks are nonetheless worthwhile for
those interested in psycholinguistic examinations of dislocation phenomena, and
suggest intriguing directions for further research.

These minor criticisms aside, the volume adeptly tackles the complex question of
French dislocation. This book will be of interest primarily to those working in
generative syntax; those concerned with psycholinguistics, corpus linguistics
and language acquisition will also find the empirical evidence and methods
relevant to their interests.


Auger, J. (1994). ''Pronominal clitics in Québec colloquial French: A
morphological analysis.'' Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
Reinhart, T. (1981). ''Pragmatics and linguistics: An analysis of sentence
topics.'' Philosophica 27: 53-94.
Zribi-Hertz, A. (1994). ''The syntax of nominative clitics in standard and
advanced French.'' In Cinque, G., Koster, J., Pollock, J.-Y., Rizzi, L., and
Zanuttini, R., editors, ''Paths Towards Universal Grammar: Studies in Honor of
Richard S. Kayne.'' Georgetown University Press: Washington, D.C. 453-72.

Robert V. Reichle is assistant professor of French linguistics at Northern Illinois University. He recently completed his dissertation on the acquisition and processing of L2 French focus structure at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include ERP investigations of L1 and L2 processing, and age-related effects on L2 acquisition.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 019923048X
ISBN-13: 9780199230488
Pages: 320
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