French Predicate Anaphora, Comparatives, and Ellipsis

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While French does not display the kind of VP-ellipsis found in languages like English, it effects verbal anaphora by means of two constructions that have received relatively little attention in the literature. Both of these combine the generic 'action verb' faire 'do' with what appears to be a pronoun. The first one, which I call le-faire anaphora (LFA), uses the clitic le, whereas the second one, which I call faire-ça anaphora (FCA), brings into play the strong pronoun ça 'it/that'. Taking such pronouns to be substitutive pro-forms devoid of inner structure cannot, however, explain why LFA, but not FCA, can appear in the standard of a comparative, a property that distinguishes English VP-ellipsis from VP-pro-forms like do it/that/so, which behave like FCA. On the other hand, LFA, unlike English VP-ellipsis, does not allow wh-extraction from a VP-internal position outside the realm of comparatives, which leads to a paradox left unresolved in the literature. In this article, I argue that LFA involves ellipsis of a whole vP phase. Specifically, I argue that faire in LFA, but not in FCA, is a (semi)auxiliary verb that takes a vP complement and bears an E-feature lexicalized by the clitic le. I show that this correctly predicts that A-movement out of the ellipsis site is possible and that A-bar movement of a degree wh-phrase out of vP in comparatives is made possible by the fact that French licenses Quantification at a Distance, a grammatical operation that allows degree quantifiers to escape vP before the next phasal head (C) is merged and triggers ellipsis. Other wh-quantifiers that do not benefit from the Quantification at a Distance option are then expected to not be able to escape vP prior to ellipsis, hence run-of-the-mill wh-extraction out of VP is correctly predicted to be incompatible with LFA. I then turn to what appears to be a related anaphoric phenomenon, which consists of the predicational copula être 'be' and the clitic le, which I call l'être anaphora (LEA), and show that it too is an instance of ellipsis in that it allows the full range of extraction phenomena out of the missing constituent introduced by the copula. I assume that in those cases in which the copula takes a small clause, it participates in an asymmetric structure where it lexicalizes Pred, a head that mediates between subject and predicate. In those cases in which the copula introduces a passivized VP, on the other hand, I assume that it lexicalizes v, an assumption in line with theories that posit multiple instantiations of predicate mediators (so-called 'flavors of v'). In both cases, the copula in LEA heads a phase, bears an E-feature lexicalized by le, and is argued to license ellipsis of its phasal complement. Thus, elements are allowed to escape ellipsis by moving to the edge of the phase headed by the copula, and this correctly predicts that LEA permits a wider range of extractions out of the ellipsis site than LFA does.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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