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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Rumor Has It: The Press Conditional in French and Spanish
by Arrigo, Michael C., Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2020, 203; 28086815
Abstract (Summary)

In journalistic texts in both French and Spanish, the conditional may be used to report an unconfirmed fact, akin to the use of allegedy in English, as in (1) and (2):

  1. (La justice pénale américaine enquêterait sur General Motors ‘The Justice Department [would be investigating] General Motors
  2. Según los datos en poder de este periódico, un informe de Hacienda acreditaría muchos de los obsequios y confirmaría los datos del ex gerente ‘According to information in possession of this newspaper, a source from the Treasury [would substantiate] many of the gifts and [would confirm] the former director’s information

In French, this use of the conditional has accumulated many names, one of which is the conditionnel de presse. In Spanish, it is most often referred to as the condicional del rumor. I refer to both as the press conditional given the construction’s association with journalistic language in both French and Spanish. While this use of the conditional has been extensively studied in French, its Spanish counterpart has only recently begun to receive closer attention from scholars, much of it in the shadow of prior work undertaken on French. This dissertation addresses this gap by proposing a study that allows for a more thorough treatment of the construction in each language using an extensive news corpus. Not only does this study provide new data for Spanish, it provides a comprehensive examination of the press conditional in newswriting in each language, which, until now, was lacking in both French and Spanish.

In Chapter 1, I present an overview of the uses of the conditional in French and Spanish. I then focus on the press conditional, its history and its prescriptive status in each language. I also review previous theoretical models of the press conditional and previous work on the construction in journalistic texts. In Chapter 2, I present my methodology. I describe my bilingual corpus consisting of a constructed week’s worth of editions of two French and two Spanish newspapers: Le Monde, Libération, El Mundo and El Periódico de Catalunya. I then demonstrate the paraphrases I use to extract tokens of the press conditional from the corpus. These combine the appropriate indicative tense with adverbial markers paraît-il ‘it seems’ in French and por lo visto ‘apparently’ in Spanish. I then outline the analytic framework through which I examine the data. I approach the press conditional from the perspective of register, examining its use in journalistic texts in the light of their communicative aims. Since the primary aim of journalistic texts is to represent the truth, I understand the choice to use the press conditional as one made with consideration for precise writing and accurate reporting, which are the means by which journalists establish credibility.

In Chapter 3, I first examine the forms and frequency of the press conditional in French. I find that the data here bears out prior claims in the literature: the present conditional is most frequent with a present reading, while the past conditional is used for past events. I confirm that the present conditional with a prospective reading is rare, as it is not present in the corpus. I then analyze how the press conditional is used within the newspapers. I find that article type is not explanatory with respect to the use of the press conditional in French. Rather, I draw a distinction between conditionals serving to report information (reporting conditionals) and those that serve to reprise discourse (discursive conditionals). This distinction is shown here to correlate with article type, when a high-level split between news and commentary is made. Reporting and discursive conditionals are found at relatively similar rates in news articles, while reporting conditionals are rare in commentary, unlike discursive conditionals. The press conditional also frequently accompanies quantification in reportative contexts in journalistic texts. Discursive conditionals prove interesting because of their rarity in commentary in Libération and their relatively higher frequency in Le Monde. I find that Le Monde’s more extensive use of the discursive conditional in its commentary articles serves to signal a consistently journalistic style while also demonstrating that the press conditional appears to be a stereotypical feature of journalistic writing in French. Finally, I argue that, as used in journalistic texts, the press conditional can be seen as a marker of non-prise-en-charge.

In Chapter 4, I begin by providing the forms and frequency of the press conditional in Spanish. I note that the press conditional in fact encompasses the press conditional to mark both inferences and reported information. I provide a tabulation of the frequency of each use as well as an overview of their functions within the Spanish corpus. I then examine the temporality of each. I find that the present conditional may refer to present and past states, as well as future events and states. Notably, I confirm that present conditionals marking reported information do not require a future time marker to trigger a prospective reading (as is the case in French) in Peninsular Spanish. I then account for the use of the press conditional in Spanish as a function of article type. I find that in the case of polls and scientific articles the presence of the conditional may actually reflect the presence of scientific discourse within the pages of a newspaper. Conversely, I argue that in the case of articles on official misconduct and criminal activity, the press conditional’s efficiency in marking uncertainty in sensitive contexts may override prescriptive discouragement of the press conditional. I end by arguing that more diachronic and synchronic studies across journalistic, scientific and legal text types may better clarify the reported and inferential uses of the conditional in the Spanish press and also more generally.

In Chapter 5, I compare the forms, frequencies and temporalities of the present and past conditional in French and Spanish. I then examine the use of the press conditional in its capacities to convey reported information and/or inference. To the extent that it is a marker of reported information, I argue that it constitutes a special kind of reported speech in journalistic writing. I find that in its speech reporting function, the French press conditional implies an element of subjectivity not seen in its Spanish counterpart. On the basis of the common use of the press conditional to mark inference in Spanish, I examine tokens in French that appeared to convey inference. I argue that this function, while numerically marginal, requires further study. I then compare the press conditional at the level of the article, at the level of the newspaper and at the level of the language itself. I recall that while article type can be used to explain the use of the press conditional in Spanish, its use is more generalized in French. With respect to newspapers, I show that the press conditional reflects little of Libération and El Periódico’s journalistic practices. The press conditional has what one might call a performative function in Le Monde and is a pragmatic outgrowth of El Mundo’s investigative reporting. This points to the varying capacity the press conditional has in helping shape a newspaper’s journalistic identity. Finally, I conclude with a reflection on the fact that the press conditional is not only a stereotypical feature of French journalistic language, it is also on its way to becoming such a feature in Spanish. Thought of this way, it is not just a register feature but potentially a stylistic one as well.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: McLaughlin, Mairi-Louise
Commitee: Kern, Richard, Garrett, Andrew
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: Romance Languages & Literatures (French)
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 82/5(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, Journalism, Foreign language education, History, French literature, Mass communications
Keywords: Conditional, Evidentiality, French, Spanish
Publication Number: 28086815
ISBN: 9798691236006
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