From # [Je]F suis Charlie to #JeSuisCharlie
On the semantics and information structure of a French empathic copular sentence
Je suis Charlie was used over 619.000 times in the two days that have followed the attack of Charlie Hebdo and has regularly been taken up in both written and spoken forms since. A number of variants of this meme (i.e. Nous sommes tous (des) Charlie) have also emerged among French speakers. We argue that this is primarily related to the fact that the structure of Je suis Charlie actually clashes with its meaning. Whereas its word order and default rightmost sentence stress are compatible either with an all-focus reading or a narrow focusing of Charlie, the solidarity/empathy message it communicates suggests that its subject is narrowly focused. We propose that two strategies have emerged to solve this conflict: (i) various alternative forms have appeared that allow proper subject focusing and (ii) speakers have reinterpreted the original structure so as to pragmatically retrieve the (additive) focused nature of the subject.
Keywords: copular sentences, focus, predicative proper names, empathic reading, French
Published online: 06 June 2018
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