Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Keynote Article

Phrase-final prepositions in Quebec French: An empirical study of contact, code-switching and resistance to convergence*


a1 University of Ottawa

a2 University of Arizona

a3 University of Ottawa


In this study, we investigate whether preposition stranding, a stereotypical non-standard feature of North American French, results from convergence with English, and the role of bilingual code-switchers in its adoption and diffusion. Establishing strict criteria for the validation of contact-induced change, we make use of the comparative variationist framework, first to situate stranding with respect to the other options for preposition placement with which it coexists in the host language grammar, and then to confront the variable constraints on stranding across source and host languages, contact and pre-contact stages of the host language, mainstream and “bilingual” varieties of the source language, and copious and sparse code-switchers. Detailed comparison with a superficially similar pre-existing native language construction also enables us to assess the possibility of a language-internal model for preposition stranding. Systematic quantitative analyses turned up several lines of evidence militating against the interpretation of convergence. Most compelling are the findings that the conditions giving rise to stranding in French are the same as those operating to produce the native strategy, while none of them are operative in the presumed source. Explicit comparison of copious vs. sparse code-switchers revealed no difference between them, refuting claims that the former are agents of convergence. Results confirm that surface similarities may mask deeper differences, a crucial finding for the study of contact-induced change.

(Received February 16 2010)

(Revised August 21 2010)

(Accepted October 10 2010)

(Online publication August 11 2011)


c1 Address for correspondence: Shana Poplack, 70 Laurier East, Suite 422, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1N 6N5


* The research reported here was generously funded by grants to Poplack from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Killam Foundation. Poplack holds the Canada Research Chair in Linguistics. Yves Roberge has been a source of boundless information about preposition stranding, and we are indebted to him for hours of invaluable discussion. Éric Mathieu not only cheerfully withstood, but kindly answered our barrage of questions, providing many useful references along the way. Comments from Rena Torres Cacoullos and audiences at LSA, CLA and University of New Mexico substantially improved this study. We thank members of the University of Ottawa Sociolinguistics Lab Molly Love for her research and editorial skills, and Alexandra Hänsch, Allison Lealess and Mystique Lacelle for participating in extracting, coding, checking and correcting the English preposition data from the Quebec English Corpus and the Ottawa-Hull French Corpus. This paper has benefited enormously from the very detailed and thoughtful comments of four reviewers, to whom we are most grateful. The usual disclaimers apply.