The Meanings of Pronominal-Verbal Constructions for Speakers and Learners of French

Kathleen Connors, Benoit Ouellette


This article reports on a study of the interpretations of French pronominal-verbal constructions, and on the classification of those interpretations as 'reflexive', 'reciprocal', 'intrinsic', or 'passive'. Nineteen Francophone and 19 non-Francophone students in university degree programmes in English <-> French translation interpreted 20 sentences with pronominal-verbal constructions having, out of context, one or more of the four possible readings. To do this, they wrote a translation or a paraphrase corresponding to each reading. They also
identified each of the readings which they recognized as reflexive, reciprocal, intrinsic, or passive, having been given a written and oral explanation of these interpretation types.
The results of the study showed greater correctness in rendering and identifying reflexive and reciprocal readings, on the one hand, than for intrinsic and passive readings, on the other. One major source of difficulty was the metalinguistic aspect of the task: there was a great tendency
to misclassify correct non-reflexive interpretations as reflexive. Another was the preference among Francophones for paraphrase over translation as the means to express an interpretation. This posed the greatest problem in the case of the intrinsic, which must be interpreted by a verb lexically different from that in the reflexive, reciprocal, and/or passive reading. This requirement was best met by translating, not paraphrasing, the specifically intrinsic reading, since within one language, there are no perfect synonyms.

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