A French Spoken Norm under the Radio-Canada Spotlight: Verbal Negation and Quebec Cultural Elites

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Several studies have analyzed sociolinguistic variation in Quebec French (QF) vernaculars, but few have examined more careful QF speech. This paper examines verbal negation and the variable use of the negative clitic ne in the speech of 32 members of Quebec’s cultural elites during recent (2003–2011) televised sit-down interviews. As a subset of our sample is interviewed in two different settings, one which deals with emotional personal narratives (Un Train corpus) and another in which speakers talk about a more objective topic (Le Point corpus, see Bigot 2008), the comparison between corpora further assesses the status of the negative particle as a stylistic marker. For instance, our analysis of both corpora reveals rates of ne use far superior to those observed in QF vernaculars, as well as a significant effect of address pronoun (formal 2s vous or informal tu) and age. We also show that operative linguistic constraints in our careful QF data are similar to those described in the literature on colloquial French (e.g. effect of collocations and subject type), and remain stable across speaker groups and interview settings. These results indicate that although speakers are aiming towards an elusive ‘standard Quebec French’ (SQF), they are constrained by a cohesive mental grammar even in careful speech. In short, this study fills a gap in the literature by using comparative sociolinguistics methods to provide a more nuanced description of verbal negation in ‘standard Quebec French’ (SQF), one which measures the relative effect of social, stylistic and linguistic factors.

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