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Optional wh in situ in French interrogatives: Syntax and prosody

English title Optional wh in situ in French interrogatives: Syntax and prosody
Applicant Shlonsky Ur
Number 156160
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Département de linguistique générale Faculté des lettres Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Romance languages and literature
Start/End 01.09.2015 - 31.08.2019
Approved amount 422'796.00
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Keywords (4)

Wh-in-situ; Prosody; French; Syntax

Lay Summary (French)

Toute langue possède des moyens grammaticaux pour formuler des questions. Puisque les phrases interrogatives font interagir des représentations syntaxiques, sémantiques et prosodiques, leur étude constitue un lieu privilégié pour l'exploration des liens entre les différent modules de la grammaire.Ce projet a comme but d'explorer le mappage entre, d'une part, le système sonore et prosodique du langage et, d'autre part, le système conceptuel-intentionnel. Cette problématique sera abordée en étudiant les expressions interrogatives in situ en français. L'étude englobera une face syntaxique, des études quantitatives de corpus et une dimension expérimentale.
Lay summary
En dépit d'un nombre non-négligeable de travaux sur ce sujet, aussi bien la description que l'analyse des wh in situ français ne sont pas satisfaisantes. La littérature sur ce sujet attribue des propriétés sémantiques et prosodiques souvent contradictoires aux wh in situ et, sur la base des données problématiques, propose des analyses complexes et mutuellement incompatibles ayant des implications importantes pour l'architecture de la grammaire.

Pour remédier à ces lacunes, ce projet propose une étude englobant une face syntaxique, des études quantitatives de corpus et une dimension expérimentale.

Au delà de l'établissement d'une base de données fiable de la distribution des wh in situ en français, le projet abordera les questions suivantes, parmi d'autres :

  • Est-ce que le wh in situ est une stratégie facultative pour la formation des interrogatives ?

  • Sur quels paramètres la distribution des wh in situ en français est-elle différente de celle dans d'autres grammaires qui incorporent la stratégie in situ pour la formation d'interrogatives ?

  • Pourquoi le français possède-elle cette stratégie grammaticale tandis qu'elle est absente des langues très proches (comme l'italien) ?

  • Est-ce que l'élément wh dans ce type de questions joue le rôle du focus prosodique ?

  • Si l'élément wh porte la proéminence prosodique de l'énoncé, est-ce que la proéminence est calculée sur la base de sa position syntaxique ou bien est-ce qu'elle est assignée par d'autres mécanismes?

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 08.06.2015

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Dr. Nicola Munaro: Dip. Studi Linguistici e Culturali Comparati, Università Ca' Foscari , Venice Italy (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Deuxième Journée du Réseau Thématique Language & Communication Poster On low(er) wh-positions in Trevigiano and the in situ-ex situ alternation 14.09.2017 Université de Genève, Switzerland Bonan Caterina;
Deuxième Journée du Réseau Thématique Language & Communication Talk given at a conference An experimental study on long-distance questions in French 14.09.2017 Université de Genève, Switzerland Tual Lucas;
50th SLE meeting Talk given at a conference On some special properties of why in syntax and prosody. 10.09.2017 Zürich Universität, Switzerland Bocci Giuliano;
50th SLE meeting Talk given at a conference "Why" in situ in Northern Italian Dialects 10.09.2017 Zürich Universität, Switzerland Bonan Caterina; Shlonsky Ur;
Studentische Tagung Sprachwissenschaft (StuTS) Talk given at a conference On (very) low wh-positions. Challenging Remnant-TP movement. 25.05.2017 Zürich Universität, Switzerland Bonan Caterina;
Romance Interrogatives Workshop Talk given at a conference Long-distance wh-in-situ in French: an experimental study 18.05.2017 Konstanz Universität, Germany Tual Lucas;
Romance Interrogatives Workshop Talk given at a conference Some empirical and conceptual issues in the study of French wh-in-situ 18.05.2017 Konstanz Universität, Germany Shlonsky Ur;
Romance Interrogatives Workshop Talk given at a conference On "why" in situ in Trevigiano 18.05.2017 Konstanz Universität, Germany Bonan Caterina;
27th Colloquium on Generative Grammar Talk given at a conference When prosodic distribution meets syntactic derivation: wh-questions in Italian. 17.05.2017 Universidad de Alcalá, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain Bocci Giuliano;
47th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages Talk given at a conference On the assignment of nuclear pitch accent in Italian wh-questions 20.04.2017 University of Delaware, United States of America Bocci Giuliano;
GLOW 2017 Workshop on Syntax-Phonology Interface Talk given at a conference Prosody tracks cyclic movement: evidence from Italian wh-questions. 14.03.2017 University of Leiden, Netherlands Bocci Giuliano;
43rd Incontro di Grammatica Generativa Talk given at a conference Prominence distribution in Italian wh-questions: from syntax to prosody. 15.02.2017 IUSS, Pavia, Italy Bocci Giuliano;
43rd Incontro di Grammatica Generativa Talk given at a conference Prosodic and syntactic properties of French interrogative sentences 15.02.2017 IUSS, Pavia, Italy Tual Lucas;
Journée des Doctorants du Réseau Langage et Communication UniGe Talk given at a conference Wh-elements ‘in situ’: The case of French and some Venetan dialects 15.09.2016 Genève, Switzerland Tual Lucas; Bonan Caterina;
Aix Summer School on Prosody Poster The Syntax and Prosody of Interrogatives in French 09.09.2016 Aix en Provence, France Tual Lucas;
1st SynCart Worskhop Talk given at a conference Interrogative Sentences in French: Syntax & Prosody 12.07.2016 Chiusi, Italy Bonan Caterina; Tual Lucas;
VariaForMea Winterschool 2015 Individual talk The Syntax of optional wh-in-situ: The case of French & the Roman Venetan Dialects 08.12.2015 Macolin, Switzerland Bonan Caterina;

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
184384 The fine structure of Romance interrogative it-clefts 01.09.2019 Early Postdoc.Mobility
105237 Micro-Parametres in Romance Wh Movement 01.10.2005 Project funding (Div. I-III)
127742 Wh in situ, clefts and focalization 01.07.2009 International short research visits


Interrogatives interface syntactic, semantic and prosodic representations. Since all human grammars have means to construct questions, their study constitutes a privileged locus for the exploration of the interaction between the components or modules of I-language (or mental grammar, viz., Chomsky 1986). 36 years after the publication of On wh movement (Chomsky 1977), many aspects of the grammar of questions still challenge us. Underlying this project is the conviction that the study of interrogatives must focus on the complex ways in which syntax and prosody interact.The study of this interaction is particularly urgent at the present time. Perhaps the central issue of current research in Linguistics concerns the frontiers of I-language, that is, the nature of the mapping between the sensorimotor and conceptual-intentional systems and the role of the computational system.This project focuses on a specific empirical domain, that of wh in situ interrogatives in French. The choice of a narrow domain is methodologically justified because a less bounded domain would not allow for the kind of detailed and controlled exploration of prosody and syntax that we wish to pursue.Despite the amount of literature on the subject, French wh in situ still lacks both an adequate empirical description and a satisfactory analysis. The literature ascribes conflicting syntactic, semantic and prosodic properties to wh in situ and on the basis of this problematic data, researchers have proposed complex and mutually-incompatible analytic machineries with strong implications for the architecture of the grammar.In our view, these lacunae can only be remedied by a detailed and controlled research, in which the syntactic and the prosodic investigations cross-fertilize each other. Our contribution consists of an intimately integrated study of the prosody and syntax of wh in situ, pairing quantitative and experimental techniques with a crosslinguistically-sensitive theoretical approach.Beyond establishing a firm database for French wh in situ and clearing up the confusion concerning its distribution, some of the broad questions that will be targeted are the following:•Is wh in situ truly an optional strategy of question-formation or does it carry shades of meaning or a pragmatic import (D-linking, presuppositions) different from ex situ wh? What is the formal status of an optional operation?•How is the French pattern different from the patterns observed in other optional wh in situ languages? Why is wh in situ available in French but not in closely-related languages like Italian? How can the cross-linguistic variation be accounted for?•French wh in situ is banned in main questions with est-ce que and with subject clitic inversion and in indirect questions. How is this pattern to be accounted for?•Wh in situ can be shown to be marginal at best in preverbal subject position. Why is this so?•Are different imports of wh in situ disambiguated prosodically? What are the phonological mechanisms involved?•Does the wh element count as prosodic focus?•If the wh element bears the main prominence, is prominence computed on the basis of the syntactic embedding or is it assigned by other mechanisms? In the second case, how can we formalize them?