The Categories of Grammar

French <i>lui</i> and <i>le</i>

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  • Author(s): Alan Huffman 1
  • View Affiliations Hide Affiliations
    Affiliations: 1: The City University of New York
  • Format: PDF
  • Publication Date February 1997
  • e-Book ISBN: 9789027281975
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/slcs.30


This book offers an analysis of the French clitic object pronouns <i>lui</i> and <i>le</i> in the radically functional Columbia school framework, contrasting this framework with sentence-based treatments of case selection. It suggests that features of the sentence such as subject and object relations, normally taken as pretheoretical categories of observation about language, are in fact part of a theory of language which does not withstand empirical testing. It shows that the correct categories are neither those of structural case nor those of lexical case, but rather, semantic ones. Traditionally, anomalies in the selection of dative and accusative case in French, such as case government, use of the dative for possession and disadvantaging, its use in the faire-causative construction, and other puzzling distributional irregularities have been used to support the idea of an autonomous, non-functional central core of syntactic phenomena in language. The present analysis proposes semantic constants for <i>lui</i> and <i>le</i> which render all their occurrences explicable in a straightforward way. The same functional perspective informs issues of cliticity and pronominalization as well. The solution offered here emerges from an innovative instrumental view of linguistic meaning, an acknowledgment that communicative output is determined only partially and indirectly by purely linguistic input, with extralinguistic knowledge and human inference bridging the gap. This approach entails identification of the pragmatic factors influencing case selection and a reevaluation of thematic-role theory, and reveals the crucial impact of discourse on the structure as well as the functioning of grammar. One remarkable feature of the study is its extensive and varied data base. The hypothesis is buttressed by hundreds of fully contextualized examples and large-scale counts drawn from modern French texts.

Subjects: Functional linguistics; Morphology; Theoretical linguistics; Romance linguistics; Semantics



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