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La variation en question(s)

Hommages à Françoise Gadet


Edited By Henry Tyne, Mireille Bilger, Paul Cappeau and Emmanuelle Guerin

Cet ouvrage réunit des articles autour de différents questionnements que suscite la prise en compte de la variation en français aujourd’hui. Il apparaît plus que jamais que l’étude de la variation, ayant contribué à élargir le périmètre de la sociolinguistique, investit progressivement différents domaines et branches de la linguistique et de la linguistique appliquée. Organisé en six sections (Aborder la variation, Sociolinguistique historique, Contact des langues, Études du français parlé, Oral et écrit, Acquisition et enseignement), cet ouvrage a pour objectif de présenter différentes études portant sur la variation en relation avec les travaux de Françoise Gadet mais également dans une perspective plus large.

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1. When (and Why) Is a Variable Not a Variable? (Nigel Armstrong / Kymmene Dawson)


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When (and Why) Is a Variable Not a Variable?

Nigel ARMSTRONG and Kymmene DAWSON

1. Motivations of sound change

We seem to find it hard to function without the prop of national stereotypes. Among the labels applied to the French, scepticism and intellectual rigour are among the more respectable, and these qualities certainly pervade Françoise Gadet’s work in abundance. The qualities are essential to a clear-sighted method of working in sociolinguistics. Gadet’s cool, dry, sparkling approach invigorates like the best champagne. In acknowledgement of our honorand’s achievement, the present article aims to look critically at a number of matters to do with variation and change in language. We look first at a sound change apparently in progress in French, suggesting that, in general, it can be accounted for in ideological terms.

At first sight it seems obvious that all linguistic change must proceed through the agency of speakers; the proposition often adduced to demonstrate this is that a dead language has no speakers and (therefore) does not change. This view is more or less axiomatic in sociolinguistics. Trudgill (1992: iv) expresses the speaker-based approach to language change particularly clearly:

Obviously, languages without speakers do not change. Linguists, however, have not always drawn the correct conclusion from this truism, namely that it is speakers who change languages. A language changes as a result of what its speakers do to it as they use it...

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