My research mainly concerns the lexico-semantics-pragmatics interface, and focuses on the processing of “polysemous” items. Apart from traditional methods used in linguistics such as corpus-based investigation and conceptual argumentation, I employ experimental methods developed in cognitive psychology, neuropsycholinguistics and experimental pragmatics in order to shed (new) light on some (old) phenomena. I have a particular interest in eye tracking and EEG-ERPs.
My PhD (see below) was about the meaning and use of the French modal verbs devoir (“must”) and pouvoir (“may/can”). I was interested in the processing of these verbs with multiple meanings, their meaning evolution in diachrony, and their representation in memory, that is in the mental lexicon.
I am also interested in scalar inferences (SIs) triggered by existential quantifiers meaning “some”, and lexical constraints on SI derivation (see e.g. certains (“some”) vs. quelques (“some”) in French), see talks and publications.
Sémantique et pragmatique des verbes modaux français. Données synchroniques, diachroniques et expérimentales.
Semantics and pragmatics of French modal verbs. Synchronic, diachronic and experimental data.
Devoir (“must”) and pouvoir (“may/can”), as modal verbs in other languages, have already been the subject of extensive literature. The fact that they can convey different meanings depending on the specific context in which they occur is of particular interest to semanticists and pragmaticians. This thesis focuses on the nature of the various interpretations of devoir and pouvoir and attempts to ascertain whether their meaning multiplicity is a result of their polysemy or of their underspecified semantics. The polysemy hypothesis, which is the prevalent view in the French literature, implies that at least both the root sense and the epistemic sense fully belong to the linguistic system and hence that both are represented in memory. On the contrary, according to the underspecification model, contextual enrichment of a unique underspecified meaning stored in the mental lexicon accounts for meaning multiplicity.
The current state of research, the review of the several possible interpretations of devoir and pouvoir, the investigation of potential meaning underdetermination in context, as well as the study of their semantic evolution in diachrony, do not allow us to rule out any of the two hypotheses. Experimental methods, developed in psycholinguistics and in experimental pragmatics, are thus used. Notably, analysis of processing times in reading in an eye tracking experiment in which both meaning and context are manipulated favours a polysemous representation for devoir, but a monosemic and underspecified representation for pouvoir.
The two modal verbs are traditionally examined together since it is assumed that one matches the other in its own modal domain. This thesis casts doubt on this assumption.
Prof. Louis de Saussure (ISLC / CSC, Neuchatel, Switzerland) & Prof. Carl Vetters (HLLI, ULCO, France)