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The reportative conditional in French, an evidential marker. A study into its origin, meaning and meaning evolution. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2019


In French newspapers, conditional verb forms such as aurait/aurait été (conditionnels) often appear in sentences like Le rédacteur en chef de Charlie Hebdo aurait été tué / Il y aurait une dizaine de morts. They illustrate a kind of use of the conditional that we will label Reportative (henceforth ReportCondit). When using ReportCondits, journalists let their readers know: (a) that they are not themselves the source of the information in the utterance, (b) that they consider the information as not completely certain and (c) that they do not want to commit themselves to its truth. Whereas there has been intensive research on the semantics and pragmatics of the contemporary ReportCondit (including by the promoter), its origin and semantic development has not attracted much attention from scholars, apart from some small-scale research initiated recently by both the promoter and the co-promoter, about: (a) the earliest occurrences of the ReportCondit (e.g. Bourova & Dendale 2006), (b) the identification of the Reportative use by early grammarians (e.g. Dendale & Coltier 2012) and (c) the semantic evolution of the conditional in general (Patard & De Mulder 2012). Currently, manuals on the history of French (e.g. Picoche & Marchello-Nizia 1998) and grammars of old and classical French (e.g. Buridant 2000, Fournier 2002) give no detailed information about the origin, the original meaning and the semantic evolution of the ReportCondit. Therefore, there is an urgent need to supplement the information lacking in the above-mentioned works and to understand how, why and when the ReportCondit acquired the meaning components described in (a), (b) and (c) above, which led linguists (starting with Dendale 1991) to consider it to be an evidential marker, the first to be identified as such in French. Research conducted at the UAntwerp by the promoter and the co-promoter largely contributed to those insights. The aim of this project is thus to (1) identify the precise meaning of the ReportCondit in modern and older stages of French, (2) its co(n)texts of use, (3) its origin and age, (4) its semantic evolution, and (5) its status as an evidential marker. With the funding of this project and the commitment of a PhD student, we can be the first to survey the emergence and evolution of the ReportCondit and thus make an original contribution to a field on the crossroads of French descriptive linguistics and international research on evidentiality.


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  • Research Project