Only newly coined slang verbs are sometimes affected: je pachave, j'ai pachave, je vais pachave pachave: 'sleep'. One or two minor innovations located on the borderline between grammar and vocabulary are none the less mentioned in 3. Standard forms like je ne comprends pas with ne as well as pas are characteristic of writing and speech which adheres to the rules of approved usage - the norm - drawn up by grammarians over the last three centuries see below.
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But some standard features have particularly formal or literary connotations the imperfect subjunctive is an example , whereas others are usable in a much wider variety of situations. Again, there is a gradient rather than a sharp transition from one division to the other.
There is a profusion of alternative French terminology in this area. There are of course many areas of French grammar in which no variation is present and where informal and formal discourse follow the same patterns. To take one example: despite the many distinctive characteristics of colloquial relative clauses see 2. If a point of grammar is not discussed in this book, it is likely to be one where standard and colloquial usage coincide.
The following table shows how the various dimensions combine. Because of the co-existence of several parameters, and the lack of clear-cut transitions between categories, there has been much debate about these classifications, and various other schemes have been proposed. For example, a number of accounts of French published in the UK Ager , Batchelor and Offord , Offord make use of a three-way register division centring on the 'degree of formality' dimension, with R egister 3 corresponding to 'formal', R2 to 'neutral', and R1 to 'informal'. For one thing, the number of specifically popular features is actually fairly small.
Moreover, as has already been pointed out, many grammatical features are common to all levels, and it will emerge in the following chapters that there can be fluctuation between alternatives within one and the same level. The relationship between the various 'grammars' might be represented by three concentric circles.
The innermost circle contains specifically popular forms; the next largest is for the more extensive set of familiar forms used 1. Of course, as there are no sharp transitions, all the circles have fairly permeable or 'fuzzy' boundaries. Undoubtedly, there are more of them than in the case of standard and colloquial English. And some very central areas of grammar are affected.
The reasons for this need to be outlined, as the divergence has come to have important consequences for users of the language. Much progress was made at that time in standardizing language use at the royal court: the French Academy the 'guardian of the language' was founded in ; uniformity was imposed in large numbers of cases where usage had previously fluctuated for example, the obligatory use of both ne and pas in negatives dates from this period ; treatises on grammar began to appear in which the various rulings were presented and explained.
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Gradually the conviction emerged that a perfect language was being created: by the end of the eighteenth century it was widely believed in cultured circles that French possessed a logic and clarity that other languages lacked. Later generations of grammarians saw their task essentially as one of preserving the language in this pristine state; accordingly, the grammar of modern standard French has remained essentially unchanged over the last two to three hundred years.
Now although the users of the aristocratic French of Versailles were politically and economically dominant, their numbers were small: perhaps a few thousand out of a population of twenty million. Even so, before the Revolution, there was no attempt to spread the use of standard French more widely: attention was very much focused on the standardization process itself. So millions of people in the south, in Brittany, in Alsace and elsewhere knew little or no French, and continued to speak various regional languages.
More to the point, even in the Paris region and other 'French'-speaking areas of northern France, the illiterate mass of the population were largely unaffected by the activities of the grammarians: everyday usage continued to evolve independently of their rulings. This rift between standard and non-standard grammar began to be bridged only very much later - not until the latter half of the nineteenth century, in fact.
Particularly important was the introduction in the s of a national system of compulsory primary education, a central aim of which was to spread the use of standard French throughout the territory of the Republic.
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This was certainly effective in marginalizing regional languages. However, as far as French itself is concerned, most of the non-standard features that had developed were too firmly established by this time for it to be possible to eradicate them entirely. Depending on their level of education, speakers approximate to the norm to a greater or lesser extent when monitoring themselves especially when writing. But in unguarded moments, non-standard features 'creep in'. The extent to which this is the case depends very much on the individual: a schoolteacher's usage - even when 'unmonitored' - will contain far more bon usage features than a manual worker's.
But there are a number of non-standard patterns like the omission of ne which are extremely prevalent in informal usage, whoever the speaker may be. The term purist is often applied to those who believe that change in language can only be for the worse and is therefore always to be resisted. To be contrasted with this is the descriptivist view that non-standard features represent the 'natural evolution' of the language, unimpeded by the interventions of grammarians. Colloquial French, from this standpoint, has its own system and its own logic. It is not to be rejected out of hand, but should be analysed and described objectively - on its own terms, not as though it were some kind of degenerate version of the norm.
The consequence is that purists regard descriptivists as dangerous libertarians who are destroying a precious linguistic heritage. Descriptivists, on the other hand, regard purists as blinkered, unscientific pedants who are unable or unwilling to recognize that languages inevitably change from generation to generation. Even so, such works set out to make recommendations about usage, rather than simply to describe and analyse, and popular French in particular is not something with which they are concerned.
Because such commentators seem still to be 'steering' or 'directing' usage in a particular direction however discreetly , this intermediate approach is often referred to as dirigiste.
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Among the more overtly normative commentators are the authors of numerous books offering guidance to native speakers of French who feel that their proficiency in the language leaves something to be desired. The school classroom also continues to be a place where bon usage is propagated, and examination syllabuses have an important part to play in this process.
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A further platform is provided by the chroniques de langage - regular columns in national and provincial newspapers where matters of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary are discussed - though these days the approach of most chroniqueurs is less strongly normative than was the case thirty or forty years ago. Descriptivists form a much smaller and more homogeneous group. Typically, they are university specialists who see it as their business to apply the methods and principles of linguistic theory not just to standard French, but to other varieties of the language.
A number of comments by academic linguists on particular issues are quoted in this book, and some of the results of their research are also presented. By way of contrast, various normative pronouncements of the more outspoken sort are also included, in order to demonstrate the kind of reasoning used by 'defenders of the language' and the extent of their concern about developments. The ordinary speaker of French, however, is in the unenviable position of making daily use of a range of forms which are officially proscribed or 'blacklisted'.
Moreover, such prominent components of the standard language as the past historic, the imperfect subjunctive, the agreement of the past participle, or even certain features of relative clauses, have little or no currency in contemporary colloquial usage, and are therefore to a greater or lesser extent unknown territory to a surprisingly large number of francophones.
The result, even among middle-class speakers, is a widespread sense of failure to measure up to the norm, a distinct uneasiness about grammar and grammarians, and a belief that French is a difficult language which they do not 'speak properly' - an odd belief on the face of it, given that those holding it are native francophones.
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Such preoccupations account, among other things, for the continued viability of the chroniques de langage in the press, for the proliferation on bookstalls of 'guides to correct usage', and for the fascination with the intricacies of spelling revealed each year in the annual international dictation contest 'Les Dicos d'Or', with its televised final. Another consequence of this sense of insecurity is that, in their struggle to speak and write 'correctly', language users sometimes overshoot the mark, as it were, and produce forms which are actually distortions of the norm at which they are aiming.
Examples of hypercorrection exist in English: the legendary Cockneys who pronounce the h in honest, or the large number of speakers who say 'between you and I' instead of 'between you and me' on the assumption that, because 'you and me' is sometimes incorrect, it must always be incorrect. An example of a hypercorrect form in French is je n'ai pas rien vu, where eagerness to include ne, as required by the norm, leads to the insertion of pas as well - though this is not of course 'correct' when rien is present.
Meanwhile, here are two representative comments in which speakers give expression to the feeling that the language they habitually use is 'not proper French', or 'not good French': a l'imparfait du subjonctif Martinet 29 1. Some general guidance can, however, be provided here for the foreign learner of French who is unsure which, if any, of the many non-standard forms presented he or she should actually use - as distinct from simply being able to recognize though this in itself is an important part of competence in the language.
It should be clear from the preceding discussion that the use or non-use of a particular form depends on the situational circumstances or setting: the fact that one may have 'heard French people say x' does not automatically make x appropriate at all times. In writing, it is advisable always to keep to the norm, unless a deliberately colloquial, probably journalistic, effect is being sought.
For example, ne should not be omitted: francophones may well not use it in conversation, but they are unlikely to leave it out in writing. In spoken usage, foreign students of French should avoid forms classified as 'popular'. In English, the effect produced by non-anglophones saying you wasn't is generally just one of incompetence in English: they are unlikely to be taken for native Londoners, Brummies or Scousers, unless the rest of their grammar and pronunciation and vocabulary is also impeccably 'popular'. But 'familiar' features can certainly be used if the circumstances are relaxed enough and the relationships between the speakers are appropriate: Do they belong to the same age group?
Are they social equals or not? Are they friends, acquaintances or strangers? Do they use the tu form or the vous form to one another? There is of course an unlimited range of possible situations. In this case, familiar features would probably be more acceptable later in the proceedings than earlier: but basically the best practice is to adapt to the usage of other people who are present. To be in a position to do this, it is important to have a clear idea of the level of 'colloquialness' of the forms in question and of the way in which the various grammatical areas are organized at that level.
Judgements relating to particular situations should then follow without too much difficulty. But it is also important to be consistent: for example, omitting ne while at the same time forming questions by using inversion see 2. Several books are listed in the References which provide more information. Lodge gives a full account of the emergence of standard French.
Chapter 2 of Sanders is a useful discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of various approaches to register and language levels. Ager , Ball , Muller , Offord , Spence and Walter contain further information about the interaction between discourse situations and language structure. In recent years, several excellent books specifically about the grammatical structure of spoken French have been published in France, though none is fully comprehensive.
Gadet , a handy paperback in the Que sais-je? It replaces an earlier and in many ways less satisfactory Que sais-je? Blanche-Benveniste and Gadet are more advanced treatments of conversational usage: various theoretical issues are raised relating to norm and variation, and a number of areas of grammar and pronunciation are explored.
Blanche-Benveniste contains quite technical, in-depth discussion of several grammatical issues.
Both this and her book are informative about the findings of the group at the University of Provence GARS: Groupe aixois de recherches en syntaxe which, over the last two or three decades, has carried out valuable research into spontaneous spoken French. To return for a moment to publications intended for the non-specialist reader, two books by Marina Yaguello and contain a series of astute and entertaining observations about trends in contemporary usage, including some that affect grammar.
Leeman-Bouix is a lucid and spirited attack on the purist tradition by a convinced descriptivist. Not to be neglected either are the two classic pioneering contributions to the study of colloquial French. Both appeared in the s, though they are very different in nature. Le Langage populaire, by Henri Bauche a writer of boulevard plays, not an academic is straightforwardly but entertainingly descriptive.
Some of the features he mentions may no longer be current particularly as regards vocabulary , but they are always picturesque. Bauche operated within a framework of traditional assumptions. On the other hand, La Grammaire des fautes, by the Swiss linguist Henri Frei is, as its title implies, a scientifically oriented attempt to present popular French as a coherent linguistic system in its own right.
Frei's account is based on a detailed analysis of letters written by soldiers during the First World War.