A really interesting answer to a question on Quora, from Andrew MacKenzie. Quora is sometimes weird about making you log in to read things, but I think this link will work.
The answer describes several areas where written and spoken French are different, and it’s worth reading in full, but I want to focus on discourse configuration. Here’s the first bit of what MacKenzie says about it:
Written French word order is based on argument structure, i.e. the role the nouns play in the verb’s action: Subject verb object. In spoken French, however, word order is much more dependent on discourse structure— the role the nouns play in the speech context.
In English we can move things around for this kind of reason, but it isn’t common. For instance, to show contrast, we can put objects before subjects:
(4) Coffee, I like. Tea, I don’t.
This displacement is accompanied by a sharp change in intonation— the contrasted item gets emphasized.
We can also set nouns apart as topics (this is called topicalization)
(5) Your brother, he can run a mile in five minutes!
Again, in English this isn’t common. And in written French, it isn’t common either. But in spoken French, it’s the normal way to make a sentence.
(4 again) Le café, j'adore. Le thé, moins
(5 again) Ton frère, il peut courir un km six en cinq minutes!
In spoken French, it’s also common to put several nouns in front. Note that with topicalization (5) you have to have a pronoun in the sentence that refers to any arguments that you’ve topicalized. One sentence that I remember well:
(6) Moi, les flics, je les aime pas.
I don’t like cops [Lit: Me, cops, I don’t like ‘em]
The use of nous, on for “we” is common, too, if you’re interested in syntax-semantic mismatches (on is 3rd singular morphologically)
(7) Nous, on va au ciné ce soir.
We’re going to the movies tonight [Lit: Us, one is going to the movies tonight]
It’s also normal to put things after the sentence. This is usually done to emphasize the last constituent, notably the predicate. The emphasized part is pronounced with more loudness and higher pitch.
(8) Il est con, ton frère.
Your brother’s a jerk. [Lit: He’s a jerk, your brother ]
The next one was some advice from my mother-in-law
(9) Faut en boire, du café, le matin.
You have to drink coffee in the mornings
[Lit: have-to some drink, coffee, the morning ]
He mentions that he can’t speak for Belgium or Canada, but as a fluent second-language French speaker living in Montreal, I can definitely say that discourse configuration is very common here, and I hadn’t actually realized it was quite so common in France.
I also get the sense that it’s more acceptable to drop the object in contexts where you definitely can’t do so in English. For example,
(10) Je peux goûter?
Can I try some? [Lit.I can taste? ]
I could also just not be hearing the objects though, since the /l/ is often deleted in casual speech for the object pronouns le, la, l’, les, which makes them almost inaudible. Any French speakers from anywhere want to weigh in?