Monday, September 16, 2013

Plus ca change .....

During my family visit, I read an interesting book by Guy Deutscher The Unfolding of Language, published in 2005.  It discusses the development of language structure and vocabulary.

Among its premises, it states that languages are in a constant state of destruction and reformation.  He uses examples from countless languages, including English, French, and Hebrew.

The French examples were very interesting.  I learned that the double negative, ne … pas, is actually the banalization of an attempt to emphasize the negative.  Previously, the participle ne by itself signified the negative.  To add emphasize, people added terms like step or point, i.e. ne pas and ne point.  Overtime, people, the exception became the norm such that nobody remembers the single negative in French.

Another fascinating point was the evolution of the latin term illo, meaning there yonder.  It is a basic marking word representing the third degree to this and that.  Over generations, it evolved into two important words: the (le and il in French and Italian) and he (il in French).  If a speaker used in as a subject like in “There is a large tiger”, il represented the third degree of distance after I and you.  On the other hand, in the sentence, I kllled that tiger, the one over there, the could be used, dropping the unused sounds.

Finally, the origin of the French future endings was illuminated.  They copy the forms of the verb to have in French and not accidentilly.  The verb “to have” has the sense of causing something to happen.  So, if you make occur, it implies something will happen in the future.

This is only a small sample of enlightening tidbits and explanations provided by this book.   I now view the classic Parisian slang, “Je'en sais pas” not as poor French but natural development.  I recommend this book all those who love speaking and understanding languages.

No comments:

Post a Comment