Linguistic Change in French

By Rebecca Posner | Go to book overview

(207) Elle s'est rendu[e] Catholique 'She became a Catholic'; Elles se sont fait[es] rendre 'They gave themselves up'.

The acceptance of the past participle agreement rule seems to be a clear-cut case of a change in usage, which was induced by a misunderstanding on the part of sixteenth-century grammarians who were confused by the apparent chaos of contemporary usage, and who were influenced by the prestige of Renaissance Italian. Modern speakers of legitimate French have adopted the rule into their own grammars, regarding it as a mark of bon usage.

In literary French agreement can even sometimes be made with a preceding en, in spite of its status as pro-PP rather than pro-NP. This is found particularly in the presence of a quantifier:

(208) Et de ce peu de jours si longtemps attendus | Ah malheureux! combien j'en ay déjà perdus ( Racine) 'And of these few days awaited for so long. Alack a day! how many I have already lost [of them]'; 'Ce sont vos lettres qui m'ont grisées | Ah! songez combien depuis un mois que vous m'en avez écrites (E. Rostand) 'It is your letters that have intoxicated me. Ah! think how many you have written me [of them] in the last month'.

It has been argued that this happens only when the en refers to items in a known set. However this is not true of all examples. In the following (from Stendhal's correspondence) we may have merely (orthographical) hypercorrection:

(209) Ses ordres, s'il en a donnés, ne me sont parvenus 'His orders, if he gave any [of them], haven't reached me'.

However, for many speakers, the agreement rule is inoperative, and may be viewed as an arbitrary and unwanted intrusion from school grammar. In the varieties used by these speakers the loss of agreement is to be linked with the reanalysis of the participle in the compound tenses as more verbal than adjectival, and as active rather than passive.
FURTHER READING
On syntax: Belletti and Rizzi 1995, Matthews 1981, Roberts 1996, Trask 1993.
On French syntax: Blanche-Benveniste et al. 1984, Harmer 1979, Hollerbach 1994, M. A. Jones 1996, Le Bidois 1971.

-416-

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Linguistic Change in French
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • List of Tables xvi
  • List of Figures xviii
  • Conventions and Abbreviations xix
  • Introduction 1
  • Further Reading 8
  • Part I: Language Change 9
  • 1 - Defining the Domain 11
  • Further Reading 55
  • 2 - Sociolinguistic History of French 57
  • Part Ii: Linguistic Change 103
  • 3 - Processes of Linguistic Change 105
  • Further Reading 142
  • 4 - Lexical Change 143
  • 5 - Semantic Change 185
  • Further Reading 214
  • 6 - Phonological Change 216
  • Further Reading 292
  • 7 - Morphological Change 294
  • Further Reading 343
  • 8 - Syntactic Change 344
  • Further Reading 416
  • In Place of a Conclusion 419
  • Bibliography 425
  • Name Index 489
  • Subject Index 499
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