Appel aux francophones

A small, informal grammar-judgement survey in French. Results and objective will be posted in a future entry.

J’ai besoin de votre jugement grammatical. Voici six phrases :

  1. J’en ai parlé avec quelqu’un, mais je ne me rappelle plus qui.
  2. Jacques a discuté du problème avec un de ses supérieurs, mais je ne sais pas avec qui.
  3. J’ai parlé de quelque chose avec Marie, mais je ne me rappelle plus quoi.
  4. Pierre a fait ce travail pour un de ses supérieurs, mais je ne me rappelle pas lequel.
  5. Olivia a fait ce travail avec une collègue, mais je ne sais pas qui.
  6. Il y a deux boutons : l’un sert à éteindre la lumière et l’autre sert à autre chose, mais je ne me rappelle plus quoi.

Ce que j’aimerais savoir pour chacune de ces phrases, c’est si, pour vous, elle est acceptable (grammaticalement parlant) 1) dans la langue courante (ni particulièrement soutenue, ni familière) ; 2) dans la langue familière, parlée. Deuxièmement, si vous jugez une phrase inacceptable, cela m’aiderait si vous m’indiquiez si, pour vous, il s’agit a) d’une entorse légère à la norme (c-à-d, il pourrait vous arriver de dire cela quand même), b) de quelque chose manifestement faux ou c) d’une horreur absolue.

Bien entendu vous êtes libres d’ajouter des explications, commentaires ou suggestions comment corriger les phrases, si nécessaire.

Pour ne pas orienter votre jugement, je garde le secret pour l’instant quant au but de l’exercice. Je vous promets une explication dans un nouveau billet dès que j’ai quelques commentaires.

Merci d’avance pour votre participation ! N’hésitez pas à vous y lancer — ce que je cherche est surtout l’opinion des locuteurs/trices moyen/nes, et non pas des dieux de la grammaire (il n’y a pas de piège dans les questions, d’ailleurs).

Linguistics in Ian Rankin’s Fleshmarket Close

Dans «Fleshmarket Close», le dernier tome paru de l’auteur de polars Ian Rankin, l’inspecteur Rebus visite un département de linguistique. Où il assiste, peu convaincu de leur utilité, à des recherches en phonétique.

Ian Rankin is one of a small handful of mystery writers whose work I particularly enjoy. And since, let’s face it, I read faster than he can write new novels, I had postponed reading the latest one of his Detective Inspector John Rebus series, Fleshmarket Close.

It’s as good as all the others — the plot revolves around asylum seekers, murdered rapists and strange skeletons turning up in stranger places, and there’s a bit more tension between the protagonists than usual — and offers a particular bonus: DI Rebus and DS Ellen Wylie get to visit the Edinburgh University linguistics department. And witness phonetics research in the making.

‘There’s a linguistics department — we’ve used them in the past for voice tests.’ A grey-uniformed servitor sat in the reception booth.
‘Dr Maybury,’ Rebus said.
‘Room two-twelve.’ […]
The language lab was at the end of a corridor, through a set of double doors. Four students sat in a row of booths, unable to see each other. They wore headphones, and spoke into microphones, repeating a set of random-seeming words:
They looked up as Rebus and Wylie entered. A woman was facing them, seated at a large desk with what looked like a switchboard attached to it, and a large cassette recorder hooked up to that. She made an impatient sound and switched off the recorder.
‘What is it?’ she snapped.
[Dr Maybury sends the two detectives to her office, where they proceed to make coffee while they wait for her. Two pages later, she joins them.]
‘Can I get you a coffee, Dr Maybury?’ Wylie asked.
‘I’m awash with the stuff,’ Maybury said briskly. Then she uttered another apology, thanking Wylie for the offer.
Rebus remembererd this about her: that she was easily flustered, and she always apologised more than was necessary.
‘Sorry,’ she said again, for no apparent reason, as she shuffled together some of the papers in front of her.
‘What was happening downstairs?’ Wylie asked.
‘You mean the reeling off those lists?’ Maybury’s mouth twitched. ‘I’m doing some research into elision …’
Wylie held up a hand, like a pupil in class. ‘While you and I know what that means, Doctor, maybe you could explain it for DI Rebus?’
‘I think, when you came in, the word I was interested in was “properly”. People have started pronouncing it with part of its middle missing — that’s what elision is.’
Rebus had to stop himself from asking what the point of such research was. Instead, he tapped the table in front of him with his fingertips. ‘We’ve got a tape we’d like you to listen to,’ he said.
[The detectives conclude their business and return to the police station. Still, they are not convinced of the importance of Maybury’s research.]
‘Elision,’ Rebus said, leaving the word hang there. […]
‘Elision,’ Wylie agreed, nodding. ‘Good to know research is being done into it.’
‘And done “proply”.’ Rebus snorted to himself. ‘You ever study geography, Ellen?’
‘I did at school. You reckon it’s more important than linguistics?’
‘I was just thinking of Whitemire [a refugee detention centre] … some of the nationalities there — Angola, Namibia, Albania — I couldn’t point to them on a map.’
‘Me neither.’

Now please don’t start accusing Ian Rankin of being anti-linguistics. DI Rebus is far from being a model in many respects. Plus, his bumbling, but ultimately successful attempts at locating Senegal offsets his low opinion of phonetics. Not to mention that the Edinburgh linguistics department does make a small but significant contribution to his case in the end.

On a more eggcornological note or two, there’s some talk of bailing rejected asylum seekers out of that pre-deportation holding centre — a sinister place, however clean and in compliance with regulations. So I was a bit surprised to find a variant spelling in a place where bail (well, I think it ought to be bail) is used in a different sense:

  • Even having been coaxed into the passenger seat, it took Kate a while to pull the door closed, and longer still to fasten her seatbelt, Rebus fearing that she might bale out at any time.

A one-time slip-up, or Rankin’s preferred spelling, the other instances having been corrected by the editor? The Eggcorn Database has an entry (by Ben Zimmer) in the other direction: baling»bailing as in bailing wire.

Finally, I’m happy to report a perfectly natural occurrence of zone in on, which Mark Liberman at Language Log considers a “further development” of the eggcorn home in»hone in:

  • ‘Funny,’ Siobhan said, ‘Donny Cruikshank died in a town full of enemies, and the one person we’ve zoned in on is just about the only friend he had.’

All these little discoveries make me wonder if my reading habits haven’t changed lately, with part of my attention focussed on this sort of stuff.

A relative clause there’ll have to be some thinking over

Des problèmes avec une phrase relative en anglais.

So I was reading about the sad and horrifying loyalist#[1] riots that took place in Belfast over the weekend. Until I stumbled over a sentence, a quote of Ian Paisley.

In the Guardian, the construction that puzzled me looks like this (emphasis mine):

  • Then tension hit a higher notch when Ian Paisley, the now undisputed leader of unionism, warned that the Whiterock parade could prove “the spark which kindles a fire there could be no putting out“.

So there’s a relative clause with a zero relative pronoun embedded in a relative clause introduced by which. The part that I’m unsure about is the innermost one, a fire there could be no putting out: a dummy subject (”there”) and an absent object of “putting out” (the zero relative pronoun). To me, it sounds as if there was something missing. But what?

Looking at other news sources, I found that most have the same version as the Guardian (the BBC, the Times …), at least for the part of Mr Paisley’s quote that is between quotation marks. There’s one exception, though:

  • “It could be a spark that would kindle a fire that there’ll be no putting out,” he said. (

“Would kindle” instead of “kindles” and “there’ll be” instead of “there could be”, and most notably the relative pronoun that.

Still, I feel quite confused about what happens if a relative clause, in particular one with a zero relative pronoun that is the argument of a verbal particle / preposition, collides with a dummy subject in the construction there is.

[Isn’t syntax a really confusing discipline? The more I look into it, the less I understand. Maybe a better-oiled reader can put me on the right track? Pretty please?]

[1]: I debated with myself whether I should put quotation marks around “loyalist”. But as it is one of the accepted terms for the Protestant faction in Northern Ireland, this wouldn’t be appropriate. Still, “loyalist” sounds cruelly ironic for people in shoot-outs and pitched battles with the police.

Non-eggcorn: “equilateral(ly)”

Une liste d’exemples du mot «equilateral», notamment sous sa forme adverbiale (que le français ne connaît pas, de ce que j’en sais), dans des contextes surprenants.

Ce n’est pas un poteau rose, pour autant.

My first sighting was in a report from a tech volunteer in the Astrodome in Houston, quoted on BoingBoing. There are plenty of issues that need to be discussed, but the evacuees are keeping the area very clean and equilaterally said they were happier to be in the Astrodome than stuck in the Superdome […]

 read the post »
  • 2005-09-04
  • Comments Off

The canonical example for a speech act that can cause real harm has long been “screaming ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre”. Maybe this should be replaced with “screaming ’suicide bomber’ in a packed crowd”. All in all, last week has been rather too murderous. (I am aware that neither of these utterances is a performative act the […]

 read the post »

Les rennes en rose

Some eggcorns seem to transcend languages. Or rather, some idioms seem to undergo eggcornification in several languages at once. In English, scapegoat has been turned into escape goat and scrapegoat. As for the French equivalent, bouc émissaire has at least four eggcorn versions.

The extremely common eggcorn rein»reign has a French cousin, too. Except that in French, people don’t take the reigns, but the reindeers of power.

According to my estimate, prendre les rennes de … amounts to over 10% of the instances where standard French would have required rênes.

J’ai déjà fait allusion à cela : certaines locutions semblent plus enclines que d’autres à se laisser transformer en poteaux roses. Et le phénomène peut transcender les frontières linguistiques. Ainsi, le pauvre bouc émissaire pointe le nez déguisé en bouquet misère, bouquet mystère, bouc et misère, bouc et mystère et ainsi de suite. Mais son homologue […]

 read the post »

Show me your vowels!

L’accent écossais, ou : comment analyser les voyelles quand on a du mal à bien les distinguer à l’oreille nue.

This is a bit of a side-piece to the investigation into the pronunciation of the and a — reduced or unreduced? in which context does which form occur? My previous posts are here and here, Mark Liberman’s principal ones here, here, here and here, and David Beaver chipped in here and here. Looking into when a […]

 read the post »

BBC “Word 4 Word”

Word 4 Word est une nouvelle émission de la BBC Radio 4 sur la langue, liée à son projet de documentation des dialectes britanniques, Voices.

La première épisode est programmée pour aujourd’hui, dans une heure à peu près.

Je vous ferai un topo sur les émissions deradio sur la langue un de ces jours.

BBC Radio 4 has a new programme#[1] on language which will air once a week through August and September: Word 4 Word . It is part of the BBC Voices project and produced with the Open University, so this might be quite interesting. Quoting Dermot Murnaghan off the Voices page: Language is a badge. […]

 read the post »

No word too small

Comment les articles de l’anglais tissent des liens entre êtres humains, pourvu qu’ils bloguent [hé, c’est un subjonctif, ça !].

  • 2005-07-26
  • Comments Off

You know, a little over a year ago, I was wondering whether blogging was an activity I should take up. I was hesitant for a while because it seemed you had to be either your own journalist, which I am not, or to spend a considerable amount of time gazing at your own navel. I was, […]

 read the post »

Thy “thee”s, Ed Felten…

Quelques observations concernant la prononciation, réduite ou pleine, des articles a et the devant consonne dans un échantillon d’anglais américain parlé.

Some of Mark Liberman’s recent Language Log posts were dealing with dealing with reduced vs. unreduced vowels in the pronunciation of the articles a and the. (Reduced: [ə] and [ðə]; unreduced: [ɛɪ] (or [ɛj]) and [ði:]). In his latest post, he examined a G. W. Bush speech and found that, as other readers had claimed, […]

 read the post »