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Evolution in Romance Verbal Systems


Edited By Emmanuelle Labeau and Jacques Bres

The present book focuses on evolution in the Romance verbal systems. In the wake of Bybee’s and Dahl’s studies, it advocates the benefits of adopting a cross-linguistic and diachronic approach to the study of linguistic phenomena. Within the scope of the Romance family, similar cross-linguistic evolution paths are explored, as related languages at different stages of grammaticalisation may shed light on each other’s developments. A diachronic dimension also proves desirable for several reasons. First, a diachronic approach significantly enhances the explanatory power of linguistic theory by showing how a specific form came to convey a certain function. Second, change is better revealed in diachronic movement than in static synchrony. Third, meaning constantly evolves and a one-off probe will be less revealing than a sustained study through time. Finally and most importantly, similarities across languages appear more obviously in diachrony. All the chapters of this volume participate in their own way to that crosslinguistic and diachronic approach and help make it an original, focused contribution that covers all main Romance languages.


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Aude REBOTIER The passé simple takes a step back; who steps in? Narrative Tenses for naître and mourir in French and in Italian 7


The passé simple takes a step back; who steps in? Narrative Tenses for naître and mourir in French and in Italian1 Aude REBOTIER, Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne, Covarius (Paris IV) and CIRLEP (Reims) 1. The issue: replacing the PS? 1.1 The passé simple and its substitutes It is well known that the use of the French passé simple (henceforth PS) has undergone a significant decrease over centuries. According to Caudal & Vetters (2005), this decline is manifest in speech since the 17th century;2 in written French, the process is noted mainly during the 20th century. This is confirmed by quantitative analysis of newspaper data showing a drop from 20% to 3% of the verbs in sport columns since 1954 (Labeau 2007), and from 20% to 10% in obituary columns from 1955 to 2005 (Labeau 2009). If the PS is used less, other tenses must be used more frequently. The question of how the PS is replaced has been much debated (Engel 1998). We can speak of a competition between the PS and several other forms in Present Day French: (1) the passé composé, (2) the present, (3) the narrative imparfait and (4) the future tenses. 1 I’m very grateful to Dana Cohen for her thorough proofreading and valuable com- ments. 2 According to Meillet (1921/1975), the PS is already out of use in speech at the begin- ning of the 20th century, except in the South of France. 8 Aude Rebotier 1) The passé composé (PC)3 The PC...

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