I read an article about a visit by French president Emmanuel Macron to a school recently. According to this article, he is asked by a child:

« Ça va la claque que tu t'es prise ? »

I understand what this question refers to, but I'm not sure whether the child is being genuine or sarcastic. I realize that this question is asked by a young child who probably isn't being sarcastic, but I know that Macron went through some periods of great unpopularity (I'm not sure how this is right now), so I wouldn't be surprised if some people were happy (or at least, not as upset) when he was assaulted (I also can't tell through Macron's reaction whether he means something like "Don't slap people, kids" or "Don't be rude, child").

I thought I could turn my confusion into a learning opportunity by asking here:

Does the phrasing in the question convey any sarcasm, or lack thereof (i.e. is this question asked in a way where it seems the child is being sarcastic)? If so (or if not), how can I pick up on sarcasm in these instances as a non-native speaker of French?

(Voilà ma question en français : je ne sais pas si on exige cela ici. Désolé s'il y a des fautes)

J'ai lu un article à propos d'une visite récente d'une école par le président Emmanuel Macron. Selon cet article, un enfant lui a demandé :

« Ça va la claque que tu t'es prise ? »

Je comprends ce à quoi cette question fait référence, mais je ne sais pas si l'enfant parle d'une manière sincère ou sarcastique. Je comprends qu'on parle d'un jeune enfant qui n'est probablement pas sarcastique, mais je crois qu'Emmanuel Macron a dû faire face à des périodes de peu de popularité (je ne sais pas si c'est le cas maintenant), donc je ne serais pas surpris s'il y avait des personnes qui étaient heureuses (ou, sinon, pas fâchées) du fait que M. Macron ait été giflé (aussi, la réaction de Macron ne m'aide pas à comprendre : je ne vois pas s'il dénonce l'aggression en général ou s'il dénonce le comportement de l'enfant).

Je crois que quelqu'un pourrait tirer cela au clair et m'apprendre quelque chose, alors je vous demande :

Est-ce que la formulation de la question indique que l'enfant était sarcastique ? Sinon, comment pourrais-je distinguer le sarcasme de la sincérité dans ces cas-là ?

  • I can't imagine an answer to this question not being opinion based. So what I'm saying only reflects my own mind. Nothing in the phrasing can tell whether the kid is being sarcastic or not. The kid must be 6 or 7 at the most and we can't imagine a kid that age being sarcastic. If the words had been said by an adult, no doubt it would have been sarcastic. I agree with the newspeople who have talked about « l'innocence des mots d'enfants » about these words. You also ask about Macron's reaction: he's amused and says it's not nice to slap people, not even in a playground.
    – None
    Jun 18 '21 at 6:28
  • It's interesting to note that all transcriptions of the child's question have removed a superfluous word and "fixed" the past participle agreement. What is reported: Ça va la claque que tu t'es prise ?, what you can hear: Ça va la claque, là, que tu t'es pris ?
    – jlliagre
    Jun 18 '21 at 10:31
  • I think it means: Is your face still hurting from the slap? I don't see it as sarcastic from a little kid who raised his hand to ask it. You can hear the babyish voice here: youtube.com/watch?v=VHibOw6GSro The kid is whiny and is too young for sarcasm.
    – Lambie
    Jun 18 '21 at 20:37

Si l'on regarde la vidéo on voit que les enfants sont jeunes, trop petits pour faire de l'ironie ou du sarcasme. Ça a l'air sincère (ils sont à l'âge où l'on apprend à ne pas se donner des claques).

Dans cette situation la principale "clue" pour répondre c'est la vidéo, le ton et l'âge des enfants. Cute !

  • 2
    Un simple commentaire sur la forme (et non le fonds, qui est parfaitement correct): il me semble que ça ne doit pas être très difficile de dénicher un terme français pour clue (...dit la personne dont le nom de compte ne vaut clairement Pas un clue...) Jun 18 '21 at 13:19
  • @Pasunclue Ce serait un sujet pour une autre question (!). Dans ce cas, disons qu'on reformulerait « l'élément d'information sur lequel je m'appuie est la vidéo,... ».
    – A.G.
    Jun 19 '21 at 4:59
  • Merci beaucoup ! Je croyais que c'était le cas, mais je voulais la clarification au cas où je me suis trompé.
    – Kman3
    Jun 23 '21 at 4:11

The actual formulation of the question follows a pattern used often in informal conversational French. Indeed, this type of question can be used to make innuendos of various sorts that will be recognized as such through the particular intonation; however, the intonation itself gives no clues as to what is precisely meant. The context will be what allows one to determine more definitely whether the question is sarcastic or a rhetorical question, or just a plain question; there'll be cases when nothing is certain, as well.

In this present situation there is not the least possibility of a sarcastic intent, and much less still that of a rhetorical question being put to the president. The reason is simply that the children are much two young to have assimilated those ideas. It will be noticed, if one listens to the video, that the child has difficulties in the articulation of the question; he pronounces the word "claque" twice as if unsure of his words and then "que" is barely audible (maybe due to low-fidelity recording though). As he still has difficulties to express himself fluently, it is even more unlikely that he could have at his disposal the means of using the language for insinuation.
Even if, from the point of view of what the question implies plainly, it is a question that does not correspond to the child's age, it has nevertheless a simple, although rather unclear signification. What is he asking in fact?  Whether the president recovered? That is not a relevant notion; what consciousness of any medical consequence of the slap, whether bodily or psychological, could any adult have had? None, nobody in their right mind would have had such thoughts. Yet, the asking "ça va …?" cannot be taken as being on any other level ; would one suspect that the child could have been motivated by matters of legality, popularity, or matters having to do with the dignity associated to the function of someone in high office? That is even more far-fetched. No, there is not much common sense in the asking of this question, and it'll have to be dismissed as one more instance of the inchoate fancies a child's mind is capable of.

The president does not emit any judgment as to the reprehensibility of the act of slapping him or of slapping anybody else; his reply is strictly on the level of the plainest meaning that can be found for the child's words, but not specifically to the question, as the point in that question is not very explicit (it has to be inferred from the words); he answers "Ah bè oui …C'est pas agréable, hein… c'est pas bien.". He is not replying according to what has been asked, that is to the question of how he lives with the consequences of what the slap has done to him—to give a more specific wording to the question—, but instead somewhat besides the point, which he does by the formulation of an appreciation of what that sort of experience entails for someone's who has been subjected to it; it is the least you can say about it and sure to be true; "people can't be feeling good being treated that way" is the meaning that can be given to his words.

To give an explicit answer to the last question, the difference between plain and sarcastic question is made only by means of the context that gives rise to the question and by the intonation used in that latter. Moreover, the intonation can be normal and sarcasm still be the intent (there are certain very insidious possibilities as for instance that of a very affectionate tone of enunciation); then you can rely only on the context.

  • 1
    I don't think the child pronounces twice claque then had trouble with que. I hear Ça va la claque, là, que tu t'es pris ?
    – jlliagre
    Jun 18 '21 at 10:17
  • @jlliagre J'entend bien un son « k » entre la « première » occurrence du mot « claque » et ce qui pourrait très bien être, effectivement, l'adverbe « là »; il faudra remarquer cependant que si la transcription ne comporte pas une seconde occurrence du mot « claque », ce qui se comprend, il ne comporte pas non plus l'adverbe « là », ce qui est plus difficile à expliquer. Après plusieurs écoutes supplémentaires, il me semble que ce que je j'avais identifié comme la prononciation « qué » n'existe plus ; en fait il me semble maintenant que ce pronom est à peine prononcé.
    – LPH
    Jun 18 '21 at 12:38

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