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A natural-language semantics approach to infinitival and gerund-participial complementation in English

Patrick Duffley
p. 55-67


Cet article propose une analyse de la complémentation infinitive et gérondive en anglais au moyen d’un cadre théorique fondé sur la sémantique naturelle non formelle. Le postulat de base de l’analyse est que ce sont les signifiés des formes linguistiques et les relations conceptuelles entre ceux-ci qui conditionnent en premier lieu les possibilités expressives des constructions comportant un complément. L’explication proposée de l’emploi des compléments en anglais s’appuie sur trois paramètres : (1) le contenu sémantique des compléments eux-mêmes ; (2) la fonction du complément dans la phrase ; (3) le contenu lexical du verbe de la principale. Dans certains cas, il faut considérer également le contexte d’énonciation pour rendre compte de la production du message. Nous suggérons que l’incapacité d’autres cadres théoriques d’apporter des explications pour certaines données est due au fait qu’ils emploient des catégories sémantiques qui sont ou bien trop abstraites, et donc ne correspondent pas à la sémantique de l’anglais, ou bien trop particulières, ne relevant que de certains emplois des formes en question. Les données choisies pour illustrer l’argument sont prises parmi les verbes aspectuels en anglais.

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1. Introduction

1One piece of data concerning the verbs start and begin which has puzzled English grammarians is the fact that whereas start to can be used both when the complement’s event was initiated and when it was not, as in:

(1) All of a sudden it started to rain.
(2) Kestrel started to say something, but decided not to. She would listen until he was finished, but it was not easy to hold her questions, (

2begin + to + infinitive always implies initiation of the infinitive’s event, as in:

(3) The woman giggled and began to say something about a “Miller house” when her husband glared at her and sternly shushed her.

3I hope to demonstrate here that a natural-language semantics approach, allied with the Guillaumian distinction between potential and actual meaning (cf. Hirtle 1975: 5; 2007: 7-8), is capable of handling such facts by means of fairly simple and non-formal meaning-based principles. In the case at hand, three basic parameters are needed in order to account for the semantic and distributional characteristics of infinitival and gerund-participial complementation in English: (1) the semantic content of the complement forms themselves, (2) the lexical content of the matrix verb, (3) the function of the complement with respect to the matrix.

2. The Semantic Content of the Complement Forms

2.1 The Gerund-participle

4The definition of the semantic content of the -ing form has posed a serious challenge to several generations of linguists and grammarians. The two most recent grammars of English, Quirk et al. 1985 and Huddleston & Pullum 2002, avoid the question completely by making no attempt at any unified definition of this form’s meaning at all. When the challenge is taken up, the most common strategy employed is to focus on a prototypical use of the -ing form, most often that found in the progressive, and to define the meaning of the form accordingly, as being “durative aspect” (Kruisinga 1931: 259), “imperfectivizing” (Freed 1979: 72-73), or denoting a mid-point between the beginning and end of an event, as in Hewson & Bubenik’s (1997: 5-6) diagram:

4<5span>The dest recent grcogtive alammars estnraphy

(3Tthe mpan xml:lang="en" lang="en">Th/span>Th/span>f theimselationveo the mattmt of thccting nThLikehe progressive, ane -ing forund-pheen paain Ernatel rioectnveoothe praion du criptbeby e-e verbs tern mo the maexusion

3<6span>The drwo paaasic pathod="ologal usogre ohasoweralith the Gupcteri of dasic the vefinition of thaorm’s meaning at ofju oftnof dai anuseand grtative ati anotr ansenseandexpln tsns ofom2nhis foototypiceThe footteri ofirllso hospect to fact t, int bebyt a rectibeb by maillaumiaecf. Hiillaumiaec85 4: 37, 97, 12, isat fonguistiqucorms thness">ian byicasbetwrmsehe pyre need bod grtt foita the fir riontit grcoent o,efith, boom2nhy unrticulis entexte f dae ofd endxtinctandthanifitaryotential a,hich haplicns eme fir ulisazion to Usoductithe meaultiicatityh paefctivanobmarvle ofidistiuntrseThe onifftnofeen paongog ansivt thogressive,ityhdthe faaning of the foglish graund-participle

(3)4beHus dmi anibuppg ofr anup/p>

3<7span>The ianuseo parnesenteby e-Hamawd acdthanimsenditveln td inaning o…hereashe complement wient wampt orilltoogidedesye preimse thuer:saeserbs (Fr02, : 100). Howeraliimd ristority (Fandarsfidistrt toopsition se Usimongog ansiv (,hdthe faltempanshld liways impliesimplulttitityhic pot it n hosptions ith thmeth otr anent wad acnstreestnv bynerali used bo defitineomething abogided the veotr anrbs event wa theims/span>

3<8span>ThFollow thillaumiae evinciples.rtt foaning ofdxtinscdthantential antwrmsehita thed b,he faaning of the foaund-participle id in o ho xmaimplemhed, nd act yeto th us umplemhed, nrtern bete-e vesition se the semject" sth tiit sThe twfirnatorityh the foent war xmalsth us ributiopdistrt tlto hoi ansuortercdthann-fompt orilz inoperty="f the seltempa,h which hase at unefctivf infimpleteln du cr"ndon a ic tr ane semjortercr xmssibsivt of(5)t thoy shrtic (6)f inwt foisfidvolvein the progrrty="f ale moplies darerences< int b/span>

(3)5)tA n ginesembng sumyecttr anwalkein tbr />(((

3<9span>The defirnatorityh th event, cr xmalsth usken updthanwho o,a thich hase atitirrespondenso ho anomogitiuentreityhmadeoupf tha of a e infiandatcaptexnes detween thi anginning and end oflimi a/he fo the faefctivf bmarvein thanuseoch fadth(7)/span>

(3)7) Climbg a midnt fn">eianrbsy go">ff thoye evandm.o /p>

3<10span>I hnai anusea thnslement winstructions coita the isaltempan ualitzion of the inaund-participle

2.2 The To plus Infinitive Construction

4<1/span>OnT semantic content of the -itplus Infinitive alnstructions aipomorcomplemexrtt that fo the inaund-participle

3<1/span>beT vesintial ananing ofd-perly the vee of theoo infitductithainfinitive et the fase = dthe heu-perly tha of a i anotr aned s—e prting of thaokes c coies/ntion ofsintial aesilead theohantei waf. Hiiller li1995-96: 88,hicdefine tin tadthimdomovemt of thehldts"nom2nhyo ms

(3)8) Sgorilèningoto th uscnesentifbr />(

3<1/span>I T ps on be usrmes dnimsubreestnve ualitzion o (Fd acimsubreestnvesintial aity (F order to acbrg sut the aunstrudatfements/f the madxtinces< thaotwrmse/afmpansptions itween the beent, sxpressiveby e-e veinix ved dirrlement wif. Hiffley

3. The Function of the Complement with Respect to the Matrix Verb

3.1 The Gerund-participle

4<1/span>Th the cae oscich hawilloncerninae s drw,he inaund-participle

(1) 0)atr un satudt formnb byrenter">elisten uglyn hor anctedussibr>

3<15span>ThLten uglyn hor anctedussis capteructein the fomentees< thiat wherh haw finmnb byrenter">els ,hich hacount fser the sect that whrrespondeng aboaive, onstructions anirinssibilleeu-perertains hstiuntrseonditionnes havg an defoath the Guwae-e vesaive, opackespahe infinmat=rn compnveyeby e-e veuer:saesely maki un satudt f)The Fustrt tooect" saund-participleeliat w)/span>

3.2 The To plus Infinitive Construction

4<16span>The ditplus Infinitive alnstructions aipousu aesit eaaustrt tooect" ,ha ehldtstitir be used bo the fonction o(3 in:ustreraneby e-(11)/span>

(3)11) Erbsy corsidé">elit to. yret aiic. e begi oftion.tar>

3<17span>ThHdrwot to. yret aiic. ithe heerh haw firsidé">elie begi oftion.ty e-mrbsy c,eacaptefies dnte-e vesitbilitéyh threcase the vessage. sed the vesaive, o(N to. yret aiic. w firsidé">elie begi oftion.ty e-mrbsy c)sd grttbasitbilitéyh thsubrtpalon.ty e-anopetiun (Erbsy corsidé">elie hee begi oftion.t)ThGeratillt,asoweral,he -itplus Infinitive alnstructions afollow thaatrix verb, o paaagoal-oanspsult-cctica aneressive the atn hoich hae matrix verb, event waleadvt th des fir da thleadThe onin (12)sd gr(13begilowa thlten un hor anctedussisdoenot earrespondeno the heerh haw figotoornwant d/span>

(3)12)atr un satudt fogoto thlten un hor anctedussibr />(

3<18span>The fo thptefies dnte-e veabrees< thsaive, orecaseeand grt mopliitbilitéyh thsubrtpalon.ty e-anopetiun/span>

(3)12 ) *o pllten un hor anctedussisw figoto maki un satudt fbr />(Thr />(Thr />(

3<19span>The deanaphorucorms hrrespondeng ab ho(12)sd gr(13beidvolveshe vee of thatratetd in ho(tr un satudt fogoto t/tr un satudt fowant da t)/span>

2I T sect that whe -itplus Infinitive alnstructions aipot eaaustrt tooect" ut itaagoal/spsult-cctica anerecns emwhyn ta thund inth thntains hessdatiooscich hafoat eaadmi ustrt tooect" sbut itich hacralnstructle ofth thogesition s usoaseeanfitductitdnte-e vermsward-lookg abogisition serms/span>

(3)14a) *Weacralhop thaaraisebr />(Thr />(Thr />(Thr />(Thr />(

3<2/span>OnT seduriaern pc a (Fturells the maogisition seianribillee the ps onstructions aas in taf:ussh saantic cogapitween the mords" tich h,eacap be us bmarveinom2nhismadxalemeonin (a),ap bt ea usptented">istrt tltof. Hiillaumiaec8573: 155)The Fuogesition s usturells thfinitival an can bealsth ussn thithi anusea cantentedhe infinitiveheohantiun,hereash ta thalsthrrleanulleeeohotr anogesition ss/span>

(3)16a) *aes fir nsecogtiveThr />(Thr />(

3<2/span>beCstreestnv b,hithi ann-fostrt t-oect" uusea ttductig and nfinitive et thnslement winstructions c,o define tthe fasantic cosptions itween the betrix verb, event wad grt mopinitive’s e,nrecnesentg ofe faltempandthe farmesf thatssibilleemovemt oflead theohi an ualitzion o/span>

4. The Lexical Content of the Matrix Verb

1<2/span>I T phe rdnerecnnor">yarameters t the faxical coaning of the foin">erbs . Wh the prtifostrt t-oect" utplus Infinitive alnstructions ,he prxical content of the matrix ven bepliesiic tr ane semovemt offitineby e-eooisfu-persto">f th usrealz in anmeas shrsibilleThe onin (8)boutve e prting of th‘achievg ana spsults xpressiveby e-g alplies inat whe -imject" s f geve ualit shmovedo the Ma ualitzion of th uscnesentifb Onhe veotr annd, thin (9) e prting of ths fir npressiveby e-wantfleaveshe vetemn">nts/f the magoalf the mas fir nmeas shhypotr tal c/span>

2ThWh the prstrt tooect" saund-participleerbs halsthecnysh scctil anrolee the production du the maoral glessage. NoIoffi mseliwillobefu-persto">f thhavusken uprla oftwrmsehe postmt of theheorenter">g, buaonin (10)boutveb Onhe veotr annd, thainent waich haiporernesentebyaapenjed iapwillobefu-persto">f thben ajed if ale mose = aimseaca ta thing rfecmes d/span>

(3)17) In ajed iftalkg abth thyou yeernldaybr>

3<25span>ThSimilar, as inent warernesentebyahing rsidé">elidsh suntrseo thrion ofthllobefilies da th usdshyetounrealz in whe -itimseawaich haita thing rsidé">el/span>

(3)18) Inamrsidé">g buy tha new TVbr>

3<26span>ThA inth thmeth rbs sannoorticulis empt orilosptions ithllobefilies da all. /span>

(3)19)he fomellsbea anroe ati ha ofntilit sbr>

3<27span>ThHdrwoe producedur orerenr da thte-e veaund-participle

5. Application to Usage: Aspectual Verbs

1<28span>The moece osf data concerning thpectualiterbs stich hacralleftounerecns eby e-otr anproach, osciillobefu ud drwoeooiustreranehe vetlication to fae matural-language semantics approach to inuge. sd stejorterci anecnubilitéyThe Lerstpat the facuous chct th criptbebyin (l)-) thoutve e astarted to + n be used both when the complement’s event was initiated and when it was not, asichleegin + to + ways imfitineinitiation of the infinitive’s event, . Tthe thw/rr xmadgrt moratet to wasbee astarted to-g ofipolikehgin + to + thaays impliesg ofiaiation oThe Lesenditvcuousséyh thben recns ebyhdthedefoath thrbs stevokg abismad of an event, The Lsverbs stcralallonceructeinth the Guaund-participle

(3pan xml:lang="en" lang="en">Th/span>)(Th/span>)Thr />()Thr />()

3<29span>ThHoweral,htnof dae Gm—ceed —c bealsth usnceructeinth the Gutplus Infinitive alnstructions ,hd en theoapteructein thproacxitris sh90%f dai anusean thnslement winstructions c/span>

(3)24)oIofceed pr th usdupcre ohaasichleeagobr>

3<30span>I T sect thathben recns ebytr awrmsehis:mwhyn sfceed s evelptuen ofamg clrbs stnoting a e in ms

2<3/span>OnNo-otr anproach, heplmy knowy

2<3/span>beT vescre ohath the thaount foiinat whe -imajorityh the fousean thsrted to + us Infinitive alalls the mapicen:ustreranebyin (1thoutve,a thich hae infinitive’s event, oisfu-persto">f thhavusbn thuualit shitiated dThe fomhld lit ea ust morterc thssage. smpnveyeby e-srted soweraliidai ananing offitinebyrerences< eohon bye prtnsetf the complement’s event w. Tthmakbetrirs arworse,cth th saund-participle

(3)25) *strel started tosasg ofmething, but decided not to. She would listen until he wanished, …r />(2) 6beHusarted tosasg ofmething, oout a nowfen itboystaralkidine isilearto Usoush cken,hd enIn recns ebytr whIhe nkoman pot sh ckeno Uo,fju ofdifrencea sbr />(a>)

3I Clear, as inerecnnorns hich haeativshe fasantic csh th ectualiterbs stataalrerenceal antintancnrellsr thcegntatso an event, ciillot todthe Majobo thriunt fg anfoane prstfrenceceetween thart and begin wh thnslement winstructions c/span>

2<3/span>Thnatural-language semantics approach tor xmsoweralioac id hyfmeluon to Use veszled fju ofevok dThe alkeyo the maexecnnorns h the faxical costinction between poart and begin w. A ehldtste sseoe morbs str xmten th used bo trs chet till asxicalraphyeoothFebruaryo10),han icen thntexte f thich hagin whp bt ea used bShert an thalstht Leoy shnter">s the maoairr th used bo thphn usionveosensebuaonin Shusarted toe -imar,hanct thich haipoint bebyt a e-eed 1r(79: 7220)In thadtionne,eoy shart anoccuosn the prsensea thseng anandden itmovemt offuto sevurises u thfear,hain:

(1)27beHusarted to thh thinif ale mosnd in the semhohbr>

3<35span>The dsenobmarvlon ofomhlwhe astarted ipot eafine illeeaseceferrg suinhencea sheohancegntato fa event, The ussichleeitir be usgume pr astgin + foeimfitinenime infiial anmpt orilocegntato fae matucleuso fa event, (Freed 1979: 72-1 is thp bt ea ustr">tns ebytr wharted ctinein event, srtnset. Ratr ane ianrbsbs meaning atrrespondenso hoe inting of theadckg sut tn thatraed a threstoornin clnvéyThe thmakeanart andnimpn cr"ndtnve uan o (F(Tob + 1993: 175)asichleegin + rerenso hoe infiial anrtic fa ev clnvéyTspan>

2<36span>The dixical costinction between poart and begin wfju ofdcriptbeb,o dg tr anth the Gumantics app acfction of the complement wirms themselves, (2oac id ht alkeyo th recns g the vecuous chct tso dae e seat wh tr anproach, oschavusbn thunulleeeohceth tplgripsnth t. Tthart anth thgin w,aita thquitdixogal ustt foitamhld lit eahavusy unisean the mapicen:ustreranebyin (2)ssiaithit fitineine inrealzion of the infiial ancegntato fa event, Th the caaund-participle

(1)28The wyrgan to ckg sudown e in mifbr>

3<37span>ThRecnesentg of event, cdthhavg ani anpiial ancegntatorealz iniilloobous desinceveyoe inting of t whe -ient was initiated a. Wh th utplus Infinitive alnslement,haonin (29begilow,he infiial on of the inent, cisoncernivein thanmethwt fodifrenceatfashnne/span>

(3(29bee wyrgan to osken udown e in mifbr>

3<38span>ThHdrworealzg the vefiial ancegntato faeckg sudown e in mifs capteructeinataalmovemt oftowardine inrealzion of the inwho ovent, asju ofdthvbuvg an Lerstpatfew kilethirean thanibupfeen paonenrtic fae inwae-eowardinc ralg a e in ot costindaithidvolvein the prjourneyThe Fuogesition so defitinethe isawae- thseeg ananginning anataalmovemt o,sd grttbasirinfinitiveafollow th defitinethe e lltee ualitzion of the inent, cdtha2oacect to twardinich hae inginning an en pae vemject" Sheiaith cor xt eamtve e rldtste snfiial ancegntato fa event, bth tt a fiial on abismadnt, asgin + to + infinitive always implies in t whe -implement ws event wagotou-perys asju ofdthth thgin w inaund-participle

2<39span>ThMovg at ofnowa thart a, e sect that whit fitineinaheadckg sut tn thatraed a threstoornin clnvéylallowsntnofeth recns nowfitir be used bo thceeanch fadth(2). Weahavus drwoaimpalitn in Enich hae irwo paaaogesanur">yarhed spatoro the Ma ualitnfiial on of the insasg of( the focee,eor"ng atoye evmt thF order to accctin)The thtics ipur">yarhed spterupaloetaalmovemt oftowardine in ualitzion of the infinitive’s event, asd ensoae faaning of the fo + infinitive alructiourwo parfectivesiadeqlit rmeonoting a sThHowerali ta thae

2<40span>I T serbs tarted r xmalsth usfollowodibyhanstrt tooect" ,hain:

(3) 0) Shusarted toainceversions ith the inwan gimpaon ofnte f hor abr>

3<4/span>OnT semanseaeressiveby e-srted seralnsespondenso hoe inting of thn usg ofmething, otplgonom2nhyoraed a thtiforealzion ofeohancaed a thing thogressiv. T praund-prticiple

2<4/span>beIofremns emnowa thaddssivte vecuous chbehavgourc the serbs tceed s mg clrbs stceferrg su the mae of an event, ThAsnth thart a, e secctil anements/fit e seexecnnorns h the faxical coaning of the forbs t firsleanedo the Maotr aneessive, v. T prst refreestnverb, o nhis foxical cogrldpa thetop,hich haten thse usescre ohformeocctine of EnRan gce nguage ssileartg ofglish gricden tdo inugehe infinitiverafmpane forbs t(a-eednch-Cnnodi xmsockeyocch tow ficern seardnenuntragg ofrianecnye ofD o thetopo accked !,hich hamu ofhavusbn thratr anszledg anfoane prglish grmctine of mg clemse)The Fuxical coaning of thetoporrespondenso hoe infdeaf thobruction the vesaivtg f damething, ooal.antains hent bThdthe fo ng abthosvesaivtg fishobructioebyisf event, ase faanage. smpnveyebyiillobefeth vok ne vemjmctnta se the seltempa,hain:

(3) 1) Shusaropp inworkg at ofe Gupcoct" Sr>

3<4/span>I Sropptg f da event, cisoobous desincleatie ofth thi anspsumuen ofathmeth lteerhent bThT inting of thobruction thmething, ooy shnakeanaanseath th sstrt tooect" snslement winsespondeng ab hoe heerh hais/w ficbructioeb,hich haplicns eme faexusionvvee of the caaund-participle


(3) 2) Shusaropp inworkg at ofe Gupcoct" o osken ucalls thadminirate eescre ohfoithpnotr andesantmmifbr>

3<45span>ThInhmeth useane heerh haissaropp iniporec ralulleeom2nhismantexte fd ensoaleftopliesc staonin (33);hetopor xmalsth used bo defitineoss">ing of thmeth rm ac thmovemt ofpliesc st the prstexte ,haonin (34)/span>

(3)33)eHusw fipica, ooale -impleumpanen itIor minfi.eHusaropp inf thaa(

3<46span>The dirbs tnished,ccordinglyn hoWebernls ev(1968: 153 “imnteninethe e mpleteln du the forin ust thia protocsivt fnemaborann o (Thdthe heerh haissnished, nisf event, ase isciillopliesie in ms

(3) 5) Shusnished, nworkg at ofe Gupcoct" oyeernldaybr>

3<47span>ThBen us f dai ananing o,he forbs t lsthnakeanaanseaoy shth th sstrt tooect" sng form hamplement witch hafitineine heerh haw finished, ,a .e. e heerh haw firsletelydibyhapply the verin ustou, osceohi .span>

2<48span>The dirbs tquitn vok sn ms

(3)36beShusquitnworkg at ofe Gupcoct" oyeernldaybr>

3<49span>The deting of thabruptnleavn offoenosoweraliiliesiuniilli ansivt. yreturto Use vempalitn inquit,hich hacount fser theed 1s (1plissive se thaefinitionvin ms

2<50span>I T serbs tceed s parfculitandmg clglish greessive, vcinhing nstructle ofth thth whe caaund-participleorns hsere/span>

(3)37a)eHusaropp ine Gucarbr />(Thr />(iybran xml:lang="en" lang="en">Thr />(iybran xml:lang="en" lang="en">Thr />(Thr />(

3<5/span>OnT ssmadxalemeonahlwhe as,au-likehetop,hnishedca grquit,hceed s lies in t whi anoect" snoalg c anertinscdthanspsultf the coms">ing o, wt forayakawanmp; BuEhrlh ha(1994: 438)fdcriptbeadthim ot cote"ction b (,hdth:ustreraneby e/span>

(3)40) Lifehnagazineyhdthceed priubcation tbr>

3<5/span>beCstreestnv b,hityiillobefopose ud drwoat whreed sfitinethe e neg on to ane senteninuion of the inextinces< thmething, The thting ofisoobous desinctructle ofth th sstrt tooect" snslement w,haonin (41begilow,hereashealkg abrrespondenso hoe heerh haw fireed p,a .e. e heerossenteninueendxtinces< s noteg oel/span>

(3)41beIo hlpr m e heIs dhund ine faaoney,srption thfithillalloIs alraidftwrmse.eHuskepwas tcng, omalalloe mapiminficreduls des. (…) B itic itIs dhceed prealkg a, halraid“imWell, Jim,eIogilierahyou,eIod o thlikehran xml:lang="en" lang="en">Thr />(Thr />(

3<5/span>I Siaithe medxtinces< thainent wa theimsa thalsthrrernivilleeasealmovemt of e-wch hae inmject" sogressiv form2nhismapasaltowardine infuourwof. Hiillaumiaes evmpeptueh th eceeng ab imsa(1964: 195)),hceedg abr xmalsth uspterniveinaint eamtvg at ofehoe intte f tandatf a e medxtinces< thainent wTh the ipopteructal,he sescesition so de thed bo defitineoe sessibilleemovemt oftowardine infurtr anextinces< thismadnt, asd direed srignicaethe e neg on to ane ipomovemt oThe thwae- thviewg anandpalitn in sorticulis shityhdraonynth thartve alent, s:ssiaithancaed arsidscof lie pirerelnon of the insamvempalitn inrm2nhdninfiandateeohs otr a,aita thtural-lu canteceive e pr ms


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Bibliographical reference

Patrick Duffley, « A natural-language semantics approach to infinitival and gerund-participial complementation in English », Anglophonia/Sigma, 11 (22) | 2007, 55-67.

Electronic reference

Patrick Duffley, « A natural-language semantics approach to infinitival and gerund-participial complementation in English », Anglophonia/Sigma [Online], 11 (22) | 2007, Online since 13 December 2016, connection on 17 December 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/anglophonia.775

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About the author

Patrick Duffley

Université Laval (Quebec)

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Licence Creative Commons
Anglophonia – French Journal of English Linguistics est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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