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Présence de l’UQAC au colloque BLS43 en Californie

Le 43eAnnual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society se tient actuellement à Berkeley, en Californie, et se poursuit jusqu’à demain. Luc Baronian, professeur de notre unité et Alice Tremblay, étudiante à la maîtrise en linguistique y présentent une communication aujourd’hui.

Voici le résumé de leur présentation :

The morphological rise of fuckin’-insertion in Montreal French


Expletive insertion in colloquial English is used to add emphasis with the help of a usually vulgar word. Thus, Manitoba, irresponsible and Ontario can, in colloquial English, become Mani-freakin’-toba, irre-fuckin’-sponsible and On-bloody-tario. The insertion precedes the main stress of the word : hence, the expletive cannot interrupt the words Paris or happiness : fuckin’ Paris (*Pa-fuckin’-ris) and fuckin’ happiness (*ha-fuckin’-ppiness) . Examples like un-fuckin’-believable (cf. irre-fuckin’-sponsible) pose a challenge to analysis, in that the insertion doesn’t immediately precede the main stress, but seems to follow morphological boundaries instead.

For the purposes of this talk, we will use insertion as a general term (irrespective of how or where the insertion takes place), and, like Yu (2003), we reserve infixation for those cases where a morpheme is interrupted (and the insertion follows prosodic positioning).

McCarthy (1982) suggests that expletive insertion in English is best explained with strictly prosodic constraints, ignoring morphological structure. Thus, it is better to account for the difference between un-fuckin’-believable and irre-fuckin’-sponsible by positing a metrical difference : [ un ] [ [be [lieva] ble] ] vs. [irre] [ [sponsi ] ble]. McCarthy argues that, if we assume these metrical structures, inserting fuckin’ after un- or irre allows us to not break up a foot, unlike inserting it in the middle of irre would do. Whether we accept McCarthy’s analysis or not here, the initial three examples of this abstract show that English certainly has true infixation as we defined in the preceding paragraph.

We decided to look at the rise of fuckin’-insertion in Montreal French (MF), from a comparative perspective, to see whether similar assumptions to McCarthy’s on the prosodic structure of MF could account for the facts of this French dialect. We elected to use a corpus consisting of the webseries Ces gars-là that has three complete seasons totaling 30 twenty-minute episodes. This methodology allowed us to immediately obtain a sufficient number of instances (67). Of course, the content of this corpus lacks spontaneity, but the grammaticality of the usages were verified in a class of undergraduate native speakers and the authors of the series are native speakers themselves.

Our analysis of the MF instances shows that, in its preposed occurrences, fuckin’ can occupy an adjectival (c’est quoi ton fucking nom encore ? ) or adverbial position (Je suis fucking sérieux, ok ! ). It is important to note however that fuckin’ differs from more traditional MF vulgarities that require the mediation of a preposition : c’est quoi ton hostie de nom encore ? Je suis sérieux en christ ok ! This lends support to the idea that MF fuckin’ is closely calqued on English. Our corpus also contains examples of fuckin’ inserted between a first name and a last name, and at the center of compounds. The examples show further that fuckin’ does not interrupt obligatory plural liaison and that it occurs very close to the syntactic head, even closer than prenominal adjectives and object clitic pronouns. However, we were unable to find true infixation examples interrupting a morpheme. MF fuckin’-insertion is then really a prefixing strategy that can be followed by other prefixing operations. We note however that some examples outside our corpus indicate that MF is moving in the direction of infixation.

We therefore conclude that MF represents a stage of insertion immediately preceding infixation (at least for the authors of the web series). It thus becomes likely that English infixation was preceded by a very similar or identical synchronic state. If that is the case, it becomes plausible that the English prefix fuckin’ survives to this day in cases like un-fuckin’-believable and competes with the true infix in unbe-fuckin’-lievable or, alternatively, that the latter is the same prefix prosodically moved later in the derivation. Either way, augmenting the role of the morphological component in McCarthy’s analysis now seems like a desirable move.


  • Yu, Alan Chi Lun (2003). "The Morphology and Phonology of Infixation". Thèse de doctorat, University of California, Berkeley, 327 p.
  • McCarthy, John J. (1982). "Prosodic Structure and Expletive Infixation". Language 58:3, p. 574–590.
  • Ces gars-là, série web de deux saisons, vingt épisodes.

Mise à jour : 27 novembre 2018, © Unité en sciences du langage et communication, UQAC, Québec (Canada)