Linguistic Change in French

By Rebecca Posner | Go to book overview

In Place of a Conclusion

I cannot hope to summarize what I have said in the course of this book, but I should like to repeat some of the general points I have made and tried to illustrate.

Language change and linguistic change can be distinguished, in much the same way as language history and historical linguistics. The former is a sort of history, with some of the same aims: the reconstruction of the past and the tracing of changes. A 'language', within this perspective, is a social institution, with variation commensurate with the size and complexity of the community which uses it. What most people mean by the 'language' is a prestigious norm, which may be only one of a number of competing norms within the community. Native speakers of a language will usually acquire, as one of their social skills, a feeling for the significance of the norms and when and how they should be used. Some speakers remain in a more or less child-like state, in not knowing how to handle any norm other than the one that predominates in their environment. Resistance to other usages may be ideologically motivated -- by purism, snobbery, or xenophobia, for instance -- or may be a consequence of lack of exposure to, or inability to absorb, the requisite social experiences.

Language change, within this perspective, is usually a kind of language shift, by which speakers abandon one norm and adopt another. This can happen gradually, as the older norm is used in fewer circumstances and by fewer speakers, or it can come about suddenly, when there is some sort of social catastrophe, like the destruction of a large part of the population, or subjugation by an alien authority. One can postulate that the substitution of Latin for Gaulish, as of standard French for dialectal French, was effected in the former way, whereas the adoption by African slaves of a variety of French was a much more catastrophic shift. In both cases the abandoned norm may leave traces in usage of the newly preferred

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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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