Linguistic Change in French

Linguistic Change in French

Linguistic Change in French

Linguistic Change in French


What is French and how has it changed over time? Can we distinguish language history from historical linguistics, and language change from linguistic change? These questions are explored using copious material from the history of the French language, concentrating on changes in the relatively modern period in particular. Posner explains how change comes about and how changes at different levels of language interact, and the role of sociological and ideological factors is set against the internal mechanisms that trigger change. This work makes a substantial contribution to the theory of linguistic change, as well as to discussion of the relationship between language and history in French-speaking areas, including Canada and French Creole-speaking countries.


The present work is not meant as an introduction either to the history of French, or to general historical linguistics. There is already an abundance of admirable works of this sort. I hope nevertheless it will fill a gap in the present provision of works on such topics. To be honest, my main motivation for writing the book is to help me work out my own ideas about the relationship of language change and linguistic change, between history and language. Although I have been studying the history of the French language for nearly fifty years, and teaching it for nearly as long, I have never found satisfactory answers, in the traditional works, to some of the most puzzling questions.

I believe that the considerable advances in linguistic and in historical methodology have not yet been sufficiently exploited in what should be an interdisciplinary study. I hope that I can contribute in a small way to developing such a study. The present book may inspire others to continue along the same lines.

It is therefore addressed principally to two groups of serious readers: those whose expertise is mainly in linguistics, and those whose particular interest is in the French language, and how it got the way it is. For both I try to give an explanatory account of some well-known, and some less familiar, phenomena in the history of French, showing how they are related to more general principles. I hope that it will also be of use to 'straight' French historians, who only too often neglect the linguistic aspect of social and cultural history, as being too technical and therefore irrelevant.

As a linguist, I concentrate most on linguistic change, rather than on the more accessible aspects of language history. Much of the work may therefore seem abstruse to the general reader. Linguistics tends to be split into factions, each of which communicate little with the others. Linguistic studies in French, in particular, are divided between what may be termed the 'Continental European' and the . . .

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