Reprise and Detachment in Dislocated Sentences of Spoken French

Grammar books teach us that pronouns replace nouns, but a very common feature of spoken French is reprise, where a noun and the pronoun that refers to it exist in the same sentence. In addition, the noun or noun phrase is moved to the beginning or end of the sentence (detachment) and the resulting sentence is called dislocated. Dislocations in spoken French can be as high as 50%, according to Rodney Ball’s Colloquial French Grammar, so anyone wanting to comprehend spoken French needs to be able to understand this frequent word order.

1. Instead of this textbook sentence:

Jean est médecin.

In spoken French, you are more likely to hear either:

Jean, il est médecin.
Il est médecin, Jean.

2. Instead of:

Où est la poubelle ?

You will probably hear:

Elle est où, la poubelle ?
or perhaps:
La poubelle, elle est où ?

3. Instead of:

Elle parle plus à son père.

You might hear:

Elle lui parle plus, à son père.
or even:
A son père, elle lui parle plus.

Ball provides some more statistics on detachment: “Subject noun phrases undergo detachment much more often than direct objects, and direct objects more often than indirect objects. Left detachment is about a third more frequent than right detachment for subjects, but right is more frequent than left for direct and indirect objects.” In the examples above, 1. is a subject, 2. is a direct object, and 3. is an indirect object. Number 1. is more likely to be left detached (at the beginning of the sentence) since it is a subject, and 2. and 3. are more likely to be right detached (at the end of the sentence) since they are objects.

I wish word order were this easy…

Joel Walz’s article on oral proficiency and French textbooks also mentions the lack of dislocations in educational materials. Traditional textbooks teach tonic pronouns, such as moi, toi, lui, etc. but not how they are used in dislocated sentences. The explanations are limited to subjects and detachment at the beginning of the sentence (or left detachment) as in Moi, je préfère le bleu. However, reprise of object pronouns is also possible as is right detachment. Therefore, common sentences in spoken French such as Lui, je l’ai pas vu or Je le connais pas, moi are not even considered.

For the nerds linguists, there’s a 320 page book all about dislocation in French!

As I’ve mentioned before thanks to reading numerous articles on grammar in language textbooks, textbook authors should be turning towards corpus linguistics so that students have a more accurate and authentic portrayal of the language, including written vs. spoken and formal vs. informal. Even the most recent studies on French textbooks (from 2009) indicate that they still do not teach enough stylistic variation and they do not represent what is most frequently used in the French language today.

Collection of Articles & Sites Related to Languages, Learning, Education, etc. (from Twitter)

It’s been six months since I posted the last collection of links to language-related articles and sites from @ielanguages on Twitter. Here’s what I’ve been tweeting about recently: Tomorrow is the European Day of Languages (September 26) Studies on Language Learning & Acquisition Infant Brains are Hardwired for Language Preschool years can be ‘perfect storm’ for […]

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French in Action Reunion at Yale

Many university students taking French, as well as frequent viewers of PBS, have probably seen an episode or two of French in Action. It’s a 52 part video series written by Pierre Capretz that covers two years of university level courses. The series was filmed in Paris in 1985 and thanks to, they are […]

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The Shaping of Language on iTunes U from La Trobe University

La Trobe University in Australia is offering an interesting podcast on iTunes U that just became available this summer (or winter, depending on where you are). The Shaping of Language is about “the relationship between the structures of languages and their social, cultural, historical and natural environments.”  Looks like they’ve been updating it every week […]

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A Day in Geneva and Learning Swiss French

My sister and her husband came to visit last week, and we spent a day in Geneva, Switzerland. I had been there numerous times before, but usually it was only to go to the airport to fly somewhere else. This was the first time I was actually a tourist wandering around the old town and […]

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Learning new words in French & English while traveling in France: Des Oiseaux / Birds

Yesterday David and I went to the Parc des Oiseaux in Villars-les-Dombes and then to the medieval city of Pérouges, both in the département of Ain. The only things I knew about Ain were its capital city (Bourg-en-Bresse) and its number (01). I had never been there before or heard much about it. Even though it’s […]

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La Rentrée en France: Back to School… and Strikes

The official back to school shopping list for all French public school students is not only a lesson in vocabulary, but also in culture.  Most people know that France is a very centralized country and that all roads (and railroads) lead to Paris. The academic calendar is set in stone for the three zones of […]

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Free English as a Second Language (ESL) Lesson Plans and Activities

This weekend was the end of les grandes vacances in France because all public school students start the school year on Thursday. I actually love this time year of because it means that France is alive again. It’s not just back to school, but back to work since a lot of stores and businesses close […]

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Free and/or Public Domain Materials for Listening to & Reading Languages Simultaneously

Previously I explained how reading subtitles while watching TV shows or movies helps enormously with foreign language comprehension. I wanted to expand on the Listening & Reading method – because it is what I use foremost when studying languages – and list some freely available resources where you can find text and audio in several languages. […]

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Learning Italian through French, or a Third Language through a Second

I’ve mentioned before that I find learning a third language using my second language much easier than using my native language. Currently, I am improving my Italian by using resources written in French rather than English. Switching from French to Italian takes much less effort than switching from English to Italian, and the same is […]

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Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.


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