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What's 'what' in French questions

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Publication details

JournalJournal of Linguistics
DatePublished - Nov 2000
Issue number3
Number of pages19
Pages (from-to)511-530
Original languageEnglish


The analysis of French ‘what’ questions poses a number of difficulties. These questions exhibit numerous peculiarities, especially when they involve a subject wh-phrase. It is argued that the anomalous paradigm derives from three independent factors. The first is linked to the general status of matrix subject wh-phrases and the position they occupy at the interface levels. The second relates to the status of que ‘what’ as a phonological clitic. The third is argued to derive from the difference between strong quoi ‘what’ and weak que with respect to specificity. Once the interaction of these factors is taken into account, the unusual paradigm is completely explained.

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