Challenging syntactic movement approaches to cliticisation: The case of French y

Given the fairly large body of literature on Romance clitics and their analysis in various constructions, it is surprising to see how little attention has been paid to the subclass of adverbial clitics. Existing works dealing with French y seem to be loosely classifiable into the rather descriptive ones, which accurately identify the different functions that can be observed but often lack a formal framework, and the theoretical approaches, which offer highly elaborated accounts but only consider a limited number of uses. It is clear that bringing together the two is the key to a better understanding of how to analyse adverbial clitics and clitics in general. Although no final account can be given, the aim of this presentation is to point out general shortcomings of syntactic analyses of y-cliticisation that arise once the full range of uses is investigated. The main arguments are the following:

  • Descriptively, French y may function as a locative or a non-locative complement, or as an adjunct. (cf. Richter Lorentzen 1998)
  • In the theory, argumental clitics can plausibly be analysed as being base-generated (or: first-merged) in argument position before adjoining to a verbal head. (cf. Kayne 1975 or, more recently, Roberts 2010)
  • However,
    • Locative clitics arguably differ from non-locative clitics with respect to their category, thus posing a challenge to uniform feature-driven movement, and
    • Adjunct clitics are harder, if not impossible to capture by a movement approach.

Consequently, there is some evidence that different instances of y are drawn from the enumeration at different times in the derivation. Remaining issues, such as semantic constraints on cliticisation or the linear ordering in clitic clusters, are briefly considered.



Kayne, Richard S. (1975): French Syntax. The Transformational Cycle. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2nd ed.

Richter Lorentzen, Lise (1998): Quelques emplois du pronom y en français moderne. In Atti del XXI Congresso Internazionale di Linguistica e Filologia Romanza, vol. II: Morfologia e sintassi delle lingue romanze, Giovanni Ruffino, ed., Tübingen: Niemeyer, pp. 577–587.

Roberts, Ian G. (2010): Agreement and head movement: Clitics, incorporation, and defective goals. Cambridge: MIT Press.

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