Edited by Thierry Ruchot and Pascale Van Praet
[Lingvisticæ Investigationes Supplementa 33] 2016
► pp. 163–179
The paper discusses the semantic motivation behind the non-standard transitive usage of verbs in contemporary French. An example would be the following: On m’a démissionné hier (‘they fired me yesterday’). In the normative language variety, démissionner is used only in the intransitive construction as in J’ai démissionné (‘I gave in my notice’). The non-canonicity of the predicative relations discussed is of a lexical nature: the verbs in question do not normally appear in the transitive construction. Nevertheless the transitive construction itself belongs to the constructions in frequent use in French, and the novel usage of the verbs can be easily understood. Speakers use the verbs transitively despite the lack of canonicity of this usage, and the paper proposes a semantic explanation for this: the syntactic choice is semantically motivated. The transitive construction carries in itself – despite its frequency – a semantics that the speaker wants to make use of. The study takes advantage of the Construction Grammar approach. The paper starts by presenting definitions of semantic transitivity in a functional, typological perspective (G. Lazard 1994; S. Kittilä 2002; Å. Næss 2007). Then it goes through different cases where a pair of a transitive construction and a non-transitive (oblique) construction can be attested (penser (à), toucher (à), effected objects and others). Many of the examples are from the web where non-normative usage flourishes. The two constructions are compared and it is claimed that more transitive semantic features can be found in the transitive constructions. Other factors possibly relevant here are also briefly discussed: iconic motivation, semantic generalization in a particular technolect. The paper shows that the French transitive construction indeed has a semantics and that these novel usages can thus be semantically motivated.