Journal of Romance Studies

Talking about counterfactual worlds

A comparative study of French and Spanish

Journal of Romance Studies (2015), 15, (1), 52–72.

Abstract

Counterfactual thinking is a cognitive process in which reality is compared to an imagined view of what might have been. Previous studies in Linguistics have focused on the description of the conditional construction if P (then) Q. Our study aims to compare the grammatical devices used by thirty French native speakers and thirty Spanish native speakers. Participants were presented with a story that led to a particular outcome and were asked to provide alternative scenarios that might have prevented such an outcome from happening. The results showed (i) that counterfactuality is not expressed most frequently by conditional constructions and (ii) that the use of evaluative modal markers within the mutation core is a salient difference between French and Spanish. The minor role of conditional constructions suggests that the boundaries of conditionality as a conceptualization process need to be reconsidered within the realm of irreality. In addition, the frequency of evaluative modals in French suggests a preference for counterfactual scenarios that integrate an overt critical judgement from the speaker.

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Dancygier, B. and E. Sweetser (1996) ‘Conditionals, distancing, and alternative spaces’, in Conceptual Structure, Discourse and Language, ed. Adele E. Goldberg (San Diego: Stanford University), 83–98. Conditionals, distancing, and alternative spaces Conceptual Structure, Discourse and Language 83 98 Google Scholar

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Harris, P.L., T. German and P. Mills (1996) ‘Children’s use of counterfactual thinking in causal reasoning’, Cognition 61(3), 233–59. Children’s use of counterfactual thinking in causal reasoning Cognition 61 233 59 Google Scholar

Hellberg, G. (1971) Le Système hypothétique dans le français écrit et parlé. PhD thesis. University of Stockholm. Google Scholar

Hume, D. (1739/1992) Treatise of Human Nature (New York: Prometheus). Treatise of Human Nature Google Scholar

Iatridou, S. (2000) ‘The grammatical ingredients of counterfactuality’, Linguistic Inquiry 31, 231–70. The grammatical ingredients of counterfactuality Linguistic Inquiry 31 231 70 Google Scholar

Kahneman, D. and A. Tversky (1982) ‘The simulation heuristic’, in Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, ed. D. Kahneman, P. Slovic and A. Tversky (New York: Cambridge University Press), 201–8. The simulation heuristic Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases 201 8 Google Scholar

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Klein, W. and C. von Stutterheim (2006) ‘How to solve a complex verbal task: text structure, referential movement and the quaestio’, Aquisicao de Línguas Estrangeiras 30(31), 29–67. How to solve a complex verbal task: text structure, referential movement and the quaestio Aquisicao de Línguas Estrangeiras 30 29 67 Google Scholar

Lavandera, B. (1976) ‘Linguistic structure in sociolinguistic analysis’, Working Papers in Sociolinguistics 31, 2–13. Linguistic structure in sociolinguistic analysis Working Papers in Sociolinguistics 31 2 13 Google Scholar

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Lewis, D. (1973/1993) ‘Causation’, in Causation, ed. E. Sosa and M. Tooley (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 193–204. Causation Causation 193 204 Google Scholar

Liu, L.G. (1985) ‘Reasoning counterfactually in Chinese: are there any obstacles?’, Cognition 21(3), 239–70. Reasoning counterfactually in Chinese: are there any obstacles? Cognition 21 239 70 Google Scholar

Lyons, J. (1977) Semantics (Glasgow: Collins). Semantics Google Scholar

Mackie, J.L. (1980) ‘Causes and conditions’, American Philosophical Quarterly 24, 245–64. Reprinted in Causation (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Causes and conditions American Philosophical Quarterly Google Scholar

Mandel, D. and D. Lehman (1996) ‘Counterfactual thinking and ascriptions of cause and preventability’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71(3), 450–63. Counterfactual thinking and ascriptions of cause and preventability Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71 450 63 Google Scholar

Palmer, F.R. (1986) Mood and Modality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Mood and Modality Google Scholar

Patard, A. (2007) L’un et le multiple. L’imparfait de l’indicatif en francais: valeur en langue et usages en discours. PhD thesis, Université Paul-Valery, Montpellier III. Google Scholar

Pietrandrea, P. (2012) ‘The conceptual structure of irreality. A focus on nonexclusion-of-factuality as a conceptual and linguistic category’, Language Sciences 34(2), 184–99. The conceptual structure of irreality. A focus on nonexclusion-of-factuality as a conceptual and linguistic category Language Sciences 34 184 99 Google Scholar

Reilly, J.S. (1982) The Acquisition of Conditionals in English. PhD dissertation. Los Angeles, University of California. The Acquisition of Conditionals in English Google Scholar

Renzi, L. and G. Salvi (1991) Grande grammatica italiana di consultazione, Vol. II (Bologna: Il Mulino). Grande grammatica italiana di consultazione Google Scholar

Repiso, I. (2013) Parlons de l’irréel. L’expression de la contrefactualité en français, en espagnol et en italien et par des apprenants hispanophones et italophones de français. PhD thesis. Aix-Marseille University. Google Scholar

Riegel, M., J.-C. Pellat and R. Rioul (1994) Grammaire méthodique du français (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France). Grammaire méthodique du français Google Scholar

Roulet, E. (1993) ‘Des formes et des emplois des modalisateurs de proposition dans l’interaction verbale’, in Modalité et acquisition des langues, ed. N. Dittmar and A. Reich (Berlin: de Gruyter), 27–40. Des formes et des emplois des modalisateurs de proposition dans l’interaction verbale Modalité et acquisition des langues 27 40 Google Scholar

Schouten, E. (2000) The Role of the Native Language in the Non-Native Acquisition of Hypothetical Conditional Structures. PhD dissertation. University of Nijmegen. The Role of the Native Language in the Non-Native Acquisition of Hypothetical Conditional Structures Google Scholar

Silva-Corvalán, C. (1982) ‘Conditional for subjunctive in Old Castile’, Proceedings of the Eight Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 87–96. Conditional for subjunctive in Old Castile 87 96 Google Scholar

Traugott, E.C., A.G. t. Meulen, J.S. Reilly and C.A. Ferguson (eds) (1986) On Conditionals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). On Conditionals Google Scholar

Van Linden, A. and J.-C. Verstraete (2008) ‘The nature and origins of counterfactuality in simple clauses: cross-linguistic evidence’, Journal of Pragmatics 40, 1865–95. The nature and origins of counterfactuality in simple clauses: cross-linguistic evidence Journal of Pragmatics 40 1865 95 Google Scholar

Verstraete, J.-C. (2005) ‘The semantics and pragmatics of composite mood marking: the non-Pama-Nyungan languages of northern Australia’, Linguistic Typology 9(2), 223–68. The semantics and pragmatics of composite mood marking: the non-Pama-Nyungan languages of northern Australia Linguistic Typology 9 223 68 Google Scholar

Vetters, C. (1994) ‘À propos de l’imparfait après “si”’, in L’Emprise du sens. Structures linguistiques et interpretations, ed. M. Plénat, M. Aurnague, A. Condamines, J.-P. Maurel, Ch. Molinier and Cl. Muller (Amsterdam: Rodopi), 337–52. À propos de l’imparfait après “si”’ L’Emprise du sens. Structures linguistiques et interpretations 337 52 Google Scholar

Wald, B. (1993) ‘On the evolution of “would” and other modals in the English spoken in East Los Angeles’, in Modality in Language Acquisition, ed. N. Dittmar and A. Reich (Berlin: de Gruyter), 59–96. On the evolution of “would” and other modals in the English spoken in East Los Angeles Modality in Language Acquisition 59 96 Google Scholar

Wells, G.L. and I. Gavanski (1989) ‘Mental simulation of causality’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56(2), 161–69. Mental simulation of causality Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56 161 69 Google Scholar

Yeh, D. and D. Gentner (2005) ‘Reasoning counterfactually in Chinese: picking up the pieces’, Proceedings of the Twenty-seventh Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 2410–15. Reasoning counterfactually in Chinese: picking up the pieces 2410 15 Google Scholar

Alarcos-Llorach, E. (1999) Gramática de la lengua española (Madrid: Espasa Calpe). Gramática de la lengua española Google Scholar

Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española & Real Academia Española (2009) Nueva gramática de la lengua española. Sintaxis II. (Madrid: Espasa). Google Scholar

Athanasiadou, A. and R. Dirven (1997) ‘Conditionality, hypotheticality, counterfactuality’, in On Conditionals Again, ed. A. Athanasiadou and R. Dirven (Amsterdam: J. Benjamins), 61–96. Conditionality, hypotheticality, counterfactuality On Conditionals Again 61 96 Google Scholar

Au, T.K. (1983) ‘Chinese and English counterfactuals: the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis revisited’, Cognition 15, 155–87. Chinese and English counterfactuals: the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis revisited Cognition 15 155 87 Google Scholar

Bates, E. (1976) Language and Context: The Acquisition of Pragmatics (New York: New York Academic Press). Language and Context: The Acquisition of Pragmatics Google Scholar

Bernini, G. (1994) ‘Le frasi ipotetiche nell’italiano di stranieri’, in Italiano lingua seconda/lingua straniera. Atti del XXVI Congresso. Società di linguistica italiana 34, ed. A. Giacalone Ramat and M. Vedovelli (Rome: Bulzoni), 271–96. Le frasi ipotetiche nell’italiano di stranieri Italiano lingua seconda/lingua straniera. Atti del XXVI Congresso. Società di linguistica italiana 34 271 96 Google Scholar

Bloom, A.H. (1981) The Linguistic Shaping of Thought: A Study in the Impact of Language on Thinking in China and the West (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum). The Linguistic Shaping of Thought: A Study in the Impact of Language on Thinking in China and the West Google Scholar

Bowerman, M. (1986) ‘First steps in acquiring conditionals’, in On Conditionals, ed. E. Traugott, A. ter Meulen, J. Snitzer Reilly and C. Ferguson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 285–307. First steps in acquiring conditionals On Conditionals 285 307 Google Scholar

Brunot, F. and C. Bruneau (1949) Précis de grammaire historique de la langue française (Paris: Masson & Cie). Précis de grammaire historique de la langue française Google Scholar

Campos, H. (1993) De la oración simple a la oración compuesta: curso superior de gramática española (Washington: Georgetown University Press). De la oración simple a la oración compuesta: curso superior de gramática española Google Scholar

Carroll, M., A. Rossdeutscher, M. Lambert and C. Von Stutterheim (2008) ‘Subordination in narratives and macrostructural planning: a comparative point of view’, in ‘Subordination’ versus ‘Coordination’ in Sentence and Text, ed. C. Fabricius-Hansen and W. Ramm (Amsterdam: S. Benjamins), 161–84. Subordination in narratives and macrostructural planning: a comparative point of view ’ in Sentence and Text 161 84 Google Scholar

Chini, M. (1995) ‘Meno male che non elo un topo, se no mi mangia un gatto, pe finta. Precursori e genesi dei costruitti ipotetici in una bambina italofona’, in From Pragmatics to Syntax. Modality in Second Language Acquisition, ed. Giacalone Ramat and Crocco Galèas (Tübingen: Narr), 143–72. Meno male che non elo un topo, se no mi mangia un gatto, pe finta. Precursori e genesi dei costruitti ipotetici in una bambina italofona From Pragmatics to Syntax. Modality in Second Language Acquisition 143 72 Google Scholar

Comrie, B. (1986) ‘Conditionals: a typology’, in On conditionals, ed. E. Traugott, A. ter Meulen, J. Snitzer Reilly and C. Ferguson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 77–99. Conditionals: a typology On conditionals 77 99 Google Scholar

Dancygier, B. and E. Sweetser (1996) ‘Conditionals, distancing, and alternative spaces’, in Conceptual Structure, Discourse and Language, ed. Adele E. Goldberg (San Diego: Stanford University), 83–98. Conditionals, distancing, and alternative spaces Conceptual Structure, Discourse and Language 83 98 Google Scholar

Fauconnier, G. (1984) Espaces mentaux. Aspects de la construction du sens dans les langues naturelles (Paris: Minuit). Espaces mentaux. Aspects de la construction du sens dans les langues naturelles Google Scholar

Ferguson, C.A., J.S. Reilly, A. t. Meulen and E.C. Traugott (1986) ‘Overview’, in On Conditionals, ed. E.C. Traugott, A. t. Meulen, J.S. Reilly and C.A. Ferguson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 3–20. Overview On Conditionals 3 20 Google Scholar

Grevisse, M. (1986) Le bon usage (Paris-Gembloux: Duculot). Le bon usage Google Scholar

Grevisse, M. and A. Goosse (2008) Le bon usage. Grammaire française, 13th edn (Brussels: De Boeck-Duculot). Le bon usage Google Scholar

Harris, M.B. (1986) ‘The historical development of si - clauses in romance’, in On Conditionals, ed. E. Traugott, A. ter Meulen, J. Snitzer Reilly and C. Ferguson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 265–84. The historical development of si - clauses in romance On Conditionals 265 84 Google Scholar

Harris, P.L., T. German and P. Mills (1996) ‘Children’s use of counterfactual thinking in causal reasoning’, Cognition 61(3), 233–59. Children’s use of counterfactual thinking in causal reasoning Cognition 61 233 59 Google Scholar

Hellberg, G. (1971) Le Système hypothétique dans le français écrit et parlé. PhD thesis. University of Stockholm. Google Scholar

Hume, D. (1739/1992) Treatise of Human Nature (New York: Prometheus). Treatise of Human Nature Google Scholar

Iatridou, S. (2000) ‘The grammatical ingredients of counterfactuality’, Linguistic Inquiry 31, 231–70. The grammatical ingredients of counterfactuality Linguistic Inquiry 31 231 70 Google Scholar

Kahneman, D. and A. Tversky (1982) ‘The simulation heuristic’, in Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, ed. D. Kahneman, P. Slovic and A. Tversky (New York: Cambridge University Press), 201–8. The simulation heuristic Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases 201 8 Google Scholar

Katis, D. (1997) ‘The emergence of conditionals in child language: are they really so late?’, in On Conditionals Again, ed. A, Angeliki and R. Dirven (Amsterdam: Benjamins), 355–85. The emergence of conditionals in child language: are they really so late? On Conditionals Again 355 85 Google Scholar

Klein, W. and C. von Stutterheim (2006) ‘How to solve a complex verbal task: text structure, referential movement and the quaestio’, Aquisicao de Línguas Estrangeiras 30(31), 29–67. How to solve a complex verbal task: text structure, referential movement and the quaestio Aquisicao de Línguas Estrangeiras 30 29 67 Google Scholar

Lavandera, B. (1976) ‘Linguistic structure in sociolinguistic analysis’, Working Papers in Sociolinguistics 31, 2–13. Linguistic structure in sociolinguistic analysis Working Papers in Sociolinguistics 31 2 13 Google Scholar

LeBlanc, C. (2009) ‘Conditional morphology in si - clauses: a Canadian-French reanalysis’, Canadian Journal of Linguistics 54(2), 317–37, 1001–1021. Conditional morphology in si - clauses: a Canadian-French reanalysis Canadian Journal of Linguistics 54 1001 1021 Google Scholar

Lewis, D. (1973/1993) ‘Causation’, in Causation, ed. E. Sosa and M. Tooley (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 193–204. Causation Causation 193 204 Google Scholar

Liu, L.G. (1985) ‘Reasoning counterfactually in Chinese: are there any obstacles?’, Cognition 21(3), 239–70. Reasoning counterfactually in Chinese: are there any obstacles? Cognition 21 239 70 Google Scholar

Lyons, J. (1977) Semantics (Glasgow: Collins). Semantics Google Scholar

Mackie, J.L. (1980) ‘Causes and conditions’, American Philosophical Quarterly 24, 245–64. Reprinted in Causation (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Causes and conditions American Philosophical Quarterly Google Scholar

Mandel, D. and D. Lehman (1996) ‘Counterfactual thinking and ascriptions of cause and preventability’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71(3), 450–63. Counterfactual thinking and ascriptions of cause and preventability Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71 450 63 Google Scholar

Palmer, F.R. (1986) Mood and Modality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Mood and Modality Google Scholar

Patard, A. (2007) L’un et le multiple. L’imparfait de l’indicatif en francais: valeur en langue et usages en discours. PhD thesis, Université Paul-Valery, Montpellier III. Google Scholar

Pietrandrea, P. (2012) ‘The conceptual structure of irreality. A focus on nonexclusion-of-factuality as a conceptual and linguistic category’, Language Sciences 34(2), 184–99. The conceptual structure of irreality. A focus on nonexclusion-of-factuality as a conceptual and linguistic category Language Sciences 34 184 99 Google Scholar

Reilly, J.S. (1982) The Acquisition of Conditionals in English. PhD dissertation. Los Angeles, University of California. The Acquisition of Conditionals in English Google Scholar

Renzi, L. and G. Salvi (1991) Grande grammatica italiana di consultazione, Vol. II (Bologna: Il Mulino). Grande grammatica italiana di consultazione Google Scholar

Repiso, I. (2013) Parlons de l’irréel. L’expression de la contrefactualité en français, en espagnol et en italien et par des apprenants hispanophones et italophones de français. PhD thesis. Aix-Marseille University. Google Scholar

Riegel, M., J.-C. Pellat and R. Rioul (1994) Grammaire méthodique du français (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France). Grammaire méthodique du français Google Scholar

Roulet, E. (1993) ‘Des formes et des emplois des modalisateurs de proposition dans l’interaction verbale’, in Modalité et acquisition des langues, ed. N. Dittmar and A. Reich (Berlin: de Gruyter), 27–40. Des formes et des emplois des modalisateurs de proposition dans l’interaction verbale Modalité et acquisition des langues 27 40 Google Scholar

Schouten, E. (2000) The Role of the Native Language in the Non-Native Acquisition of Hypothetical Conditional Structures. PhD dissertation. University of Nijmegen. The Role of the Native Language in the Non-Native Acquisition of Hypothetical Conditional Structures Google Scholar

Silva-Corvalán, C. (1982) ‘Conditional for subjunctive in Old Castile’, Proceedings of the Eight Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 87–96. Conditional for subjunctive in Old Castile 87 96 Google Scholar

Traugott, E.C., A.G. t. Meulen, J.S. Reilly and C.A. Ferguson (eds) (1986) On Conditionals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). On Conditionals Google Scholar

Van Linden, A. and J.-C. Verstraete (2008) ‘The nature and origins of counterfactuality in simple clauses: cross-linguistic evidence’, Journal of Pragmatics 40, 1865–95. The nature and origins of counterfactuality in simple clauses: cross-linguistic evidence Journal of Pragmatics 40 1865 95 Google Scholar

Verstraete, J.-C. (2005) ‘The semantics and pragmatics of composite mood marking: the non-Pama-Nyungan languages of northern Australia’, Linguistic Typology 9(2), 223–68. The semantics and pragmatics of composite mood marking: the non-Pama-Nyungan languages of northern Australia Linguistic Typology 9 223 68 Google Scholar

Vetters, C. (1994) ‘À propos de l’imparfait après “si”’, in L’Emprise du sens. Structures linguistiques et interpretations, ed. M. Plénat, M. Aurnague, A. Condamines, J.-P. Maurel, Ch. Molinier and Cl. Muller (Amsterdam: Rodopi), 337–52. À propos de l’imparfait après “si”’ L’Emprise du sens. Structures linguistiques et interpretations 337 52 Google Scholar

Wald, B. (1993) ‘On the evolution of “would” and other modals in the English spoken in East Los Angeles’, in Modality in Language Acquisition, ed. N. Dittmar and A. Reich (Berlin: de Gruyter), 59–96. On the evolution of “would” and other modals in the English spoken in East Los Angeles Modality in Language Acquisition 59 96 Google Scholar

Wells, G.L. and I. Gavanski (1989) ‘Mental simulation of causality’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56(2), 161–69. Mental simulation of causality Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56 161 69 Google Scholar

Yeh, D. and D. Gentner (2005) ‘Reasoning counterfactually in Chinese: picking up the pieces’, Proceedings of the Twenty-seventh Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 2410–15. Reasoning counterfactually in Chinese: picking up the pieces 2410 15 Google Scholar

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Repiso, Isabel