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Review of  Grammaire, lexique, référence. Regards sur le sens

Reviewer: Ross Bilous
Book Title: Grammaire, lexique, référence. Regards sur le sens
Book Author: Louis A. de Saussure Andrée Borillo Marcel Vuillaume
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Discipline of Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.5363

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EDITORS: L. de Saussure, A. Borillo and M. Vuillaume
TITLE: Grammaire, Lexique, Référence. Regards sur le sens
SUBTITLE: Mélanges offerts à Georges Kleiber pour ses quarante ans de carrière
SERIES TITLE: Science pour la communication 99
YEAR: 2012

Ross Bilous, Department of French Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada


This volume constitutes a collection of contributions by 26 researchers in honor of 40 years of Georges Kleiber's career and his contributions to contemporary semantics. The book is divided into four sections. In the first section, ''Lexique et sémantique'', the following issues are addressed: 1) particular linguistic expressions, which are either underdocumented (e.g. ''peu de choses, déplacement'') or which need to be newly and more completely described (e.g. ''tenir''), and 2) a number of different themes. The second section, ''Grammaire et sémantique'', is about varying facets of grammar: some tense-aspects such as subsequence in the past (''ultériorité dans le passé''), present and imperfect tenses, some current (but banned by certain norms) constructions, connectors, anaphoric focalization, proverbial structure and sporadic aspect. The third and smallest section, entitled ''Syntaxe'', addresses the embedding constraints and formal anchoring of presuppositions. Finally, the fourth and last section of the book, ''Référence et varia'', deals with such issues as (personal or place) proper nouns, the history of denomination by ''sire'', verse measure and a final contribution on semantics as a humanistic science. The introduction to the volume includes comments about Kleiber's contribution to the analysis of the relation between language, reference and reality. Following the introductory essay an impressive list of works and articles by Kleiber in the XXIst century is provided (although it is not clear why preference is given to the XXIst century). This list opens the way to the articles written by contributing researchers.

Section ''Lexique et sémantique''

The article ''Beaucoup de particularités sur … ''peu de chose'''' examines four instances of occurrence or ''privileged'' grammatical contexts (p. 31) of the NP ''peu de chose'': subject attribute, complement of the verb, substantivized phrase, and core of the adverbial expression ''à peu de chose près''. The author arrives at the conclusion that the expression ''peu de chose'' does not function like the expressions formed from quantifiers ''assez'', ''beaucoup'', and the like. In the case of the attributive phrase this study shows qualitative and not quantitative evaluations, despite the initial expectations. The qualitative value can explain the mass origin. This expression has to do with a paradox: it behaves like a fixed expression whose meaning is no longer constructed but given straightaway.

''L'expression de déplacement fictif comme manifestation d'un discours narratif subjectif'' addresses certain types of lexico-syntactic structures that serve as evidence of and characterize a speaker’s possible egocentric perception about his/her environment when resorting to a small group of special adverbs as well as to diverse categories of verbs that express a fictitious displacement.

In ''Noms d'idéalités libres et noms d'idéalités liées'' the author seeks to verify if the distinction between free idealities (''idéalités libres'') and bound idealities (''idéalités liées'') has correlates in French. They are compared with reference to omnispaciality (''omni-spatialité'') and to omnitemporality (''omni-temporalité'').

''Indices sur les manifestations de la généralité nominale : le cas de ‘déplacement’'' constitutes a two-stage study: at first the semantic descent between the verb ''déplacer'' (''to displace, to move'') and a noun derived from it is discussed with the goal of verifying if the noun ''déplacement'' (''displacement, movement'') inherited its aspectual-locative properties and its subdetermination. Then, the way in which way ''déplacement'' passes from its locative subdetermination to a certain type of nominal generality is examined. In the process of this examination the notions of abstraction, of syncategorematicity, of genericity, and of hypo / hyperonymy are exploited.

The main objective of ''La notion d'emploi de prédicat. Description du verbe ‘tenir’'' is to show that the lexicographic description cannot be reduced to a simple indication of a word meaning, independently of syntax and semantics. Applying the notion of ''predicate usage'' (''emploi de prédicat''), which is a set of different types of information associated to a given predicate, the author puts forward the idea that dictionary descriptions must correspond to usage and that the first stage of building a word description should correspond to giving rise to six different constructions that can characterize any morphological verb.

The author of ''D'où vient l'ambigüité de ‘La route s'élargit’?'' addresses the question of ambiguity of the verb ''s'élargir'' (''to widen, to broaden out, to expand'') in two most problematic cases without considering all possible static interpretations, but keeping in mind the notion of orientation as well as distinguishing between static interpretation and event interpretation. At the end of the analysis the author denies the possibility of ambiguity, which is not a lexical issue, since in both interpretations the meaning of ''s'élargir'' is the same. The only existing difference has to do with the frame in which a statement appears, in accordance with discourse or situational context.

Section ''Grammaire et sémantique''

The article ''Le conditionnel et l'expression verbo-temporelle de l'ultériorité dans le passé : de la subjectivité à l'objectivité'' tackles the phenomena of subjective and objective subsequences in the past (''ultériorité subjective et objective dans le passé''). The author succeeds in tracing the path of grammaticalization of Conditional Mood and in showing in this way how French has developed the expression of objective subsequence in the past: both periphrastically (''devait / allait + inf.'') and morphologically (by means of future and conditional forms).

In ''Bossuet, Coluche et Cicéron même combat pour mettre un bonnet rouge aux relatives?'' it is shown that finite verbal constructions could be used either in a simple way or in combination with other structures in order to build a reference mark from which one would be able to define a property of a nominal head referent in a construction specific to French, in particular in the ''Coluche Construction'' (appearing in Coluche's humour). The author uses attested examples to show that the referents under study have generic value.

''Approche énonciative, structure informationnelle et genre discursif : les connecteurs ‘car / parce que / puisque’ au banc d'essai'' is about morphemes that mark a causal relation. The objective of this contribution is to point at certain problems when addressing the issue of exhaustive description of the communicative functioning of causal connectors ''car'', ''parce que'' et ''puisque'' (''because, because” and “since''). The author makes an observation that the conciliation between enunciative, informational and cognitive descriptions seems to be particularly challenging, and then he concludes the study by outlining the possibilities for future research.

''Georges, lui, mérite l'honneur. Distinction par anaphore focalisateur'' is a study whose purpose is to show that the focalizing effect is explained through a combination of several phenomena interacting with each other. After having characterized and defined the linguistic phenomena involved such as anaphoricity, deixis, and focalization, the author considers the value and the prosody of the post-subject position occupied by the pronoun ''lui'' (''him/her'') in the example under study.

In the article ''Qu'est-ce que ‘est-ce que’? Une ou deux formes interrogatives?'' the question of grammatical complexity of French interrogative statements is addressed, more specifically the coexistence of two forms of morphosyntactic marking: subject inversion and expressions with ''est-ce que''. The analysis leads the author to conclude that ''est-ce que'' is an adverbial expression produced by means of grammaticalization of the interrogative form ''C'est que P''.

''Commentaires sporadiques sur le ‘pouvoir’ de Kleiber'' constitutes a continuation of Kleiber's study (from 30 years ago) on sporadic aspect marked by the verb ''pouvoir'' (''can'') that introduces an occasional quantification of events or of properties in certain cases of its usage. The objective of this study is to explain why a speaker can choose to resort to a complex sporadic form rather than to an explicitly quantified form. After analyzing a number of examples the author concludes that sporadic statements carry radical modal information and communicate quantification as an inference based on this type of information.

In ''Retour au Chez Georges et sa cuisine proverbiale'' the author shows that the notions of denomination and of generic phrase provide two categories to which proverbs can be compared in order to elucidate their main semantic and formal properties. However, these common features do not justify the creation of a new hybrid category of the generic proverbial denomination-phrase. An attempt has been made to select the defining semantic properties of the proverbial category, representing a proverb as a self-referential autonomous generic auto-valid assertion, which in turn generates questions for future research.

The article ''Deux temps à aspect variable : le présent et l'imparfait'' is a study of two tenses, present and imperfect, which generally express the imperfective aspect, but can also realize the perfective aspect in a number of grammatical contexts. The goal is to account for this variation using the notion of interpretation by default and the notion of deviant interpretation. Drawing on a number of examples the author illustrates how the aspectual value (either perfective or imperfective) of a sentence is determined (in most cases) by means of the mode of action or of discourse relations.

Section ''Syntaxe''

In the article ''Contraintes d'enchâssement et enchâsseurs-tampons'' it is shown how different types of constituents (words, phrases or what the author refers to as ‘sub-sentences’ ''sous-phrases'') are integrated into a sentence. The author aims at explicating the differences in the internal structure between words and phrases, on the one hand, and sub-sentences, on the other. It is also discussed how different grammatical contexts condition the use of one or the other type of embedders and what constraints limit variation in the ways of embedding.

''Présuppositions et ancrages extensionnels/intensionnels'' represents an examination of contrasts in values of truth in subjunctive and indicative object clauses. One of the conclusions made is as follows: subjunctive verbal morphology triggers an intensional anchoring of object clauses, whereas the indicative morphology of verbs causes an extensional anchoring. Intensional anchoring properties are applied to subjunctive object clauses, including the verbal expression ''se faire V''. Subjunctive morphology of verbs is seen as a strategy that appeals to presuppositional calculations shared by a set of diverse grammatical mechanisms.

Section ''Référence et varia''

''La nomination monoréférentielle'' focuses on denominations of particular referential objects such as the titles of paintings. A number of singular and unique objects that do not enter into any category of words have been discovered. Based on a thorough analysis of specific properties of pictorial denominations and of theoretically related aspects, the author is led to rethink the production of monoreferential denominations in a larger framework called ''signaletic'' (''signalétique''). On page 337 of this article an original schema showing the placement of signaletics can be found. The signaletics are placed in a general field of denominations. The author argues that pictorial denominations present not only specific properties that characterize them, but that they offer an original pragmatic model of monoreferential nomination.

The article ''À propos du statut théorique du nom propre (référentiel) : retour (incontournable) à Mill?'' is about the issues related to the definition, status and referential usage of proper nouns.
A distinction between different types of usage conditioned by the nature and the functioning of proper nouns is made, followed by discussion about two ''paradigmatic'' (p. 342) options and advantages and disadvantages of Frege's (1971) and Kripke's (1972) approaches. In the final part of the article the merits of Mill's (1866) theoretical analysis of meaning and reference are specified.

The purpose of the article ''Si le mètre m'était compté : sur la notion fallacieuse de mesure du vers'' is to show that the notion of measure of a verse is not fitting for the analysis called ''metric''. The author proposes that the rhythmic impression, corresponding to what is called ''measure'' of a settenario (''heptasyllabe'') or of an octosyllable, be viewed not as a quantity (as such), but as a quality. In the complex explanation that follows it is shown that: 1) it is not only the verses that one needs to measure, and 2) the number determining the rhythm of an expression is not necessarily the number of its vowels.

''Le mot ''sire'' en ancien français et autres glanures'' is an article that follows up on Kleiber (1978). It analyzes the usage (and more specifically, the forms of ancient declensions, the usage in context, etc.) of the lexeme ''sire'' / ''seignor'' in ancient French by consulting grammars, dictionaries and some texts. The author concludes that the lexeme in question evolved significantly in terms of its application. Nowadays three words ''sire'', ''seigneur'' et ''sieur'' still coexist, but generally without their vocative usage. And the derived word ''monsieur'' has had the strongest history of use.

The second to last article ''Nom de lieu, nom de personne, nom de nom -- le cas de Guermantes'' is a reflection about the use of the noun ''Guermantes'' made by Marcel Proust in ''À la recherche du temps perdu and Contre Sainte-Beuve''. In this investigation the author tries to learn if the “Npr Guermantes” refers to a place (a toponym) or to one or many person(s) (an anthroponym), if the referent is of mundane or metalinguistic type, and if the collective anthroponym (that can be quantified and modified as a common noun) is used in the vocative, generic or qualitative meaning. The results of the study show that the noun in question is actually used in all possible constructions.

Finally, the article ''La sémantique, une ancienne science humaniste? Extrapolations à partir de Georges Kleiber'' represents a reflection that closes the volume. The author's goal is to account for Kleiber's contributions to modern semantics, based mainly on his principal works. His studies can be divided into three main areas: referentiality, characterization and intersubjective stability of meaning. The author highlights Kleiber's remarkable quality in dealing with his linguist colleagues: he treated everyone with respect and loyalty, were they his adversaries or not.


The volume under review is well structured and the articles generally fit well into their respective sections. Some of the articles represent follow-up studies of the work initialized or touched upon by Kleiber in varying subfields of semantics. All in all, this book is a valuable collection of articles, which contain impressive ideas as well as solutions to numerous problems that have to do with deconstruction of meaning and explication of reference on varying grammatical constructions and types of words. Typographical errors are rare (e.g., on p. 305 ''extensionels'' in the title should be ''extensionnels''). Finally, since semantics is one of the modules of grammar of any given language, it would be conceptually better, in our view, to name Section 2 as ''Sémantique des structures grammaticales'' instead of ''Grammaire et sémantique''.

A few words need to be said about the quality of the articles. There is no doubt that all of them have something interesting to offer. However, while the majority of contributions are of high quality (and it is understandable that individual writing styles may differ to some extent), there are still some articles whose quality particularly in terms of format could be improved. For example, the introductory note is hard to read, largely due to the fact that its sentences are bulky and the ideas expressed by the authors are somewhat hard to follow, partially because they are presented in a literary rather than scientific form. In some articles a conclusion or some kind of conclusive remarks recapitulating the import of the study are missing. This is the case for the article ''Noms d'idéalités libres et noms d'idéalités liées'' (p. 59). It is always very helpful for a reader to see two main elements: 1) what kind of contribution has been made, or what the results of the study are telling us (the writer's interpretations), and 2) what the prospects are for future research based on the findings of the current research. We also need to mention the article ''Contraintes d'enchâssement et enchâsseurs-tampons'' (p. 287), which has no clear objectives or questions to be answered, nor any kind of conclusive remarks, although the descriptions offered have a certain level of analytical value. Therefore, it is almost impossible to catch the import or the purpose of this article. It impresses the reader as something that has been written in quite a haphazard way.

In conclusion, we recommend this volume to those who specialize in textual and lexical semantics as well as in semantics in general, since it represents a solid basis to build on in one's future research endeavors.


Frege, Gottlob. 1971. Écrits logiques et philosophiques, Traduction et introduction de Claude Imbert, Paris, Seuil.

Kleiber, Georges. 1978. Le mot ''ire'' en ancien français (XIe - XIIIe siècles) -- Essai d'analyse sémantique, Paris, Klincksieck.

Kripke, Saul. 1972. Naming and Necessity, in Davidson, D. and Harman G. (eds.). Semantics of natural language, Dordrecht / Boston, Reidel, 253-355.

Mill, John Stuart. 1866. Système de logique déductive et inductive. Exposé des principes de la preuve et des méthodes de recherche scientifique, Paris, Ladrange.

Ross Bilous is a Sessional Assistant Professor of French Linguistics at York University. His research interests include: theoretical linguistics and linguistic typology, French morphosyntax, (morpho)syntax-semantics interface, issues related to transitive relation, issues of bilingualism, teaching/learning of French as a second language.

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