This chapter takes a corpus linguistic approach to the investigation of reflexive, or metacommenting, expressions in French, primarily si tu veux/si vous voulez (STV/SVV). STV and SVV form part of a range of frequently occurring reflexive devices which function to flag a speaker’s hesitancy about a lexical choice, as we can see in the following example:
le cierge à trois branches consist- était + euh + un p- un chose un + un pied si vous voulez + dont + trois branches
‘the candle with three branches consist- was + er + a f – a thing a + foot if you like + with + three branches’
The chapter discusses the challenges associated with applying classic variationist approaches to discourse-pragmatic items, and presents the distributional frequencies and collocates of STV/SVV across time-dated corpora of spoken French. The chapter concludes by suggesting that an onomasiological approach offers some promise in the investigation of discourse-pragmatic variation and change and that corpus approaches can go some way to meet the challenge posed by the operationalisation of the ‘envelope of variation’ when studying pragmatic markers.