[re-sending this, as I had reached my limit yesterday]

On 20 November 2012 16:48, R A Brown <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> On 20/11/2012 12:21, Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets wrote:
> [snip]
>  It's more complicated than that I'm afraid. In Spoken
>> French, "là" has become a multipurpose time-space
>> indicator, whose actual meaning is strongly dependent on
>> context.
> Yep - I'm reminded that in his book "After Babel", George
> Steiner observes that while "Être, ou ne pas être, c'est la
> question" is the strict interlinear translation of the
> opening of Hamlet's well-known soliloquy and that, while it
> does succeed "in conveying .... almost the entire sense",
> it's not natural French.  In French we need:
> Être, ou ne pas être, c'est là la question.
> I asked my wife about as she is a fluent French speaker.
> She agreed "Yes, they would put in _la_ there."  She
> couldn't explain why other than "It's just what they do'  ;)
Actually, the traditional, and most common, translation of this verse is
"être ou ne pas être, telle est la question". It's Written French, not
Spoken French, but people usually quote it like that verbatim.

But it doesn't change that you're right. If we translated it the way you
showed, "là" would indeed be mandatory, and at the place you've put it. It
almost feels like it's not so much a lexical item as it is a prosodic
filling, lengthening statements that otherwise would feel too short and
hurried. "Ça" in "c'est qui ça ?": "who's that?" fills the same kind of
role. And indeed, "c'est ça la question" feels correct as well, if maybe a
bit too informal for the tone of Hamlet's soliloquy. Even more informal
would be "c'est la question ça" (while *"c'est la question là" just doesn't
feel correct).

OK, not sure if I'm making things clearer or more complicated. Spoken
French is full of those one-syllable words that seem to be used for the
explicit purpose of lengthening the utterance, without adding much meaning
by themselves. Their distribution, though, doesn't seem random at all, so
there are definitely rules that govern their appearance and their position.
But I'd have a hard time defining those rules. I'm wondering if anyone has
ever studied Spoken French in any depth...

> I'm dealing with ne...pas in a separate email.
Please do! Your wisdom is always valued.
Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets.