Counterfactual conditionals in focus
A contrastive analysis of French and Norwegian
This article is a comparative exploration of counterfactual conditionals introduced by the conjunction ‘if’ in French and Norwegian, a topic which has not been studied before. My analyses are based on examples from monolingual and multilingual corpora, complemented by two questionnaires, in French and Norwegian, respectively. Both languages have two main patterns corresponding to (A) [‘if’ + imperfect + conditional simple] and (B) [‘if’ + pluperfect + conditional perfect], but their use is somewhat different in the two languages. Regarding counterfactual present, both have two patterns at their disposal. In French, however, pattern (A) seems preferred whereas Norwegian displays a clear preference for pattern (B). When confronted with examples of counterfactual future, both groups of informants initially hesitated, but ultimately considered pattern (B) as an acceptable solution in many cases. Not only the tenses but also the type of verb, eventual temporal adjuncts and the context are important for the interpretations. Neither French nor Norwegian grammars present the issue satisfactorily and therefore need to be revised.
Keywords: tense, French/Norwegian, counterfactual conditional
Published online: 08 March 2013