Epistemic and subjective expressions in French: the case of je pense, je crois and je trouve

  • Juliette Angot

Student thesis: Phd


This research explores the interplay between subjectivity and epistemic modality, by focusing on a small group of expressions in French, namely je pense 'I think', je crois 'I believe' and je trouve 'I find'. It draws on more than six hours of conversation. Firstly, I adopt a constructionist approach (Hoffmann & Trousdale, 2013) and describe the three expressions as interrelated constructions, where the subject clitic je 'I' and the stance verb are no longer processed as separate items. Despite their similarities, the constructions nonetheless have distinct behaviours and are not always substitutable. Je pense and je crois can be used either as epistemic or subjective markers, insofar as each element of the constructions contributes a component of meaning. By contrast, je trouve can only be used as a subjective marker. Because je crois is never used as a subjective marker in my database, I argue that it forms a contrastive pair with je pense as an epistemic marker, while je trouve forms a contrastive pair with je pense as a subjective marker. In the first pair, my data suggest that je crois tends to be used when the speaker has knowledge of the state of affairs at hand, while je pense indicates an assumption from the speaker. In the second pair, je trouve operates a subjective strengthening, while je pense has an attenuative effect, due to the epistemic component of meaning it encodes. Secondly, I show that the multiple functions that je pense, je crois and je trouve may fulfil in interaction are evidence for their status as discourse markers. These interactional functions can be divided into two. Firstly, the constructions may perform discourse-organisational functions, when they are used to demarcate units of speech. Secondly, they may be used to soften a potential or actual face threat, thus fulfilling interpersonal functions. Nevertheless, these interactional functions are concomitant to their semantic meaning, while discourse markers are usually described as non-propositional items. I therefore propose that the three constructions can more appropriately be viewed as peripheral members rather than prototypical members of the category of discourse markers. Finally, as clause-final parentheticals, they predominantly appear as mitigation strategies. Prosodic aspects are also investigated, and suggest that the three constructions may constitute independent prosodic units, as is observed with discourse markers.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMartina Faller (Supervisor) & Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen (Supervisor)


  • Interactional Linguistics
  • French
  • Construction Grammar
  • Parentheticals
  • Epistemic verbs
  • Discourse markers

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