Page images

We further find that—

(2) Any unaccented vowel in the last syllable in a Latin word is either lost altogether or reduced to an e mute in the popular French word derived from it :

Vain, Lat. vánus;

fer, Lat. férrum ;

hiver, Lat. hibérnus;

devoir, Lat. debére.

(3) Any unaccented vowel in the last syllable but one of a Latin word is lost in the French word derived from it :—

Frêle, Lat. frágilis;

spectacle, Lat. spectaculum;

fable, Lat. fábula;
connaître, Lat. cognoscere :-

(4) Any unaccented vowel in the syllable immediately preceding the accented syllable of a Latin word is—

(a) lost in the French word derived from it, if it is short; but (b) remains if it is long ;—

(a) Vergogne, Lat. verěcúndia; (b) vêtement, Lat. vestiméntum;
naïf, Lat. natívus;

ornement, Lat. ornamentum.

(5) The vowel in the syllable not immediately preceding the accented syllable of a Latin word, though unaccented, remains in the French word derived from it :—


Venger, Lat. vindicáre ;

cherté, Lat. caritátem;

rançon, Lat. redemptiónem;

forger, Lat. fabricáre.

III. If we put side by side such French and Latin words

Fr. raison and Lat. ratio; Fr. paon and Lat. pavo; Fr. lièvre and Lat. lepus;
Fr. rien
Cicero; Fr. nuit

[ocr errors]

res; Fr. Cicéron


it is at once obvious that it is not to the nominative case, but to one of the oblique cases of these Latin words―ration-em, rem, pavon-em, Ciceron-em, lepor-em, noct-em, that we must look for the Latin forms upon which the derived French words have been moulded; and this conjecture is fully borne out by the investigations of modern scholarship. When the Celt began to adopt the parlance of the Roman, it can easily be imagined that the six Latin cases were too much for his understanding, even supposing that his illiterate masters were able to make a discriminate use of them. From a careful examination of early French writings which are still extant, we know that down to the fourteenth century the six Latin cases had been reduced to two—

the Nominative to denote the Subject, and the Accusative to denote the Object: thus

[blocks in formation]

Now when in the course of time, about the fourteenth century, the French-speaking people gradually came to express the distinction between Subject, Object, and Complement, by means of prepositions and by the order of words in the sentence, they, as a matter of course, gave up one of the two forms as a useless luxury, and thenceforth contented themselves with one; thus the remaining two cases were finally reduced to one; and it was the form of the Objective Case which, with but few exceptions, survived to the almost entire exclusion of the Subjective case. If we remember that our Anglo-Saxon forefathers had a regular system of declension, it will be seen that the same tendency to simplification-from the synthetic to the analytic, has been at work on both sides of the Channel. And the same may be said of the other offshoots of Latin-Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

It is from this time that we date the existence of Modern French, in contradistinction to Early French, which, under the name of langue d'oil, had been spoken from the time of the extinction of Latin until about the fourteenth century. It was so called, as we have seen, p. xiv., to distinguish it from the langue d'oc spoken in Southern France.

To this survival of the form of the Objective case we are indebted for the way in which we now form the plural. If we look at the above paradigm of Early French declension and remember that of the two cases of the Singular and Plural, only the Accusative has obtained, it is evident that the consequence could be no other than what actually happened, the letter s became the sign of the Plural.1 Had the reverse been the case,— had the Nominative form survived the Accusative, we should now, strange to say, form the Plural by cutting off the s of the Singular.

1 The use of x as the sign of the plural must be traced to the same source; x being merely a convertible sign for s in words ending in u or 7, which subsequently changed into u.



(1) The Letters; (2) Orthographic Signs; (3) the Sounds.

1 THE French Alphabet now in use contains the same letters as the English, omitting W, which occurs only in words derived from foreign languages


[ocr errors]

A B C D E F* G H* I J K L* M* Named:1-ah, bay, say, day, ay, f, zhay, ash, ee, zhee, kah, l, m, Р Q R* S* T U V X Y Z. n, o, pay, küh, airr, s, tay, ü, vay, eex, eegrek, zed. These letters are divided into Vowels :-a, e, i (y), o, u; and Consonants, which comprise all other letters.1

[ocr errors]

Capital letters (majuscules) are used as in English, except in the case of Adjectives derived from Proper Nouns, which in French are written with small initial letters (minuscules): as, La France; les Français; but-la langue française.

Observation.-Students who intend to study French philologically will bear in mind that Consonants are classified, according to the organs of speech employed in using them, into Mutes (Checks), Nasals, Liquids (Trills), Spirants (Fricatives). The Nasals are n, m; the Liquids 7, r; the Spirants f, v, 8, z, ch, j.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

For General Rules of Pronunciation, and the Principal Exceptions, see Appendix, § 93.

* Considered as Substantives, these names are fem., all the rest are masc.

These old names stili hold their own by the side of the modern appellation be, de,

fe, etc.

[blocks in formation]



There are in French several signs which serve either to indicate the peculiar pronunciation of certain letters, or as the distinctive mark of words spelt alike, but of different meaning, or again, to show the suppression of letters:(1) The acute accent, l'accent aigu ('), is placed over the vowel e only, to indicate that it has a short sound: as,

célérité, été.

(2) The grave accent, l'accent grave (`), is placed over the vowel e, to indicate that it has a broad or open sound: as,

dernière, père.

Observation.-Over a only in à (prep.), là, voilà, déjà, çà, deçà;

over u in où only.

The accent grave also serves to distinguish words otherwise spelt alike: as, où, where; ou, or.

à, to, at; has.

là, there; la, the, she.
dès, since; des, of the.

çà, there; ça (contraction of cela), that.

(3) The circumflex, l'accent circonfiexe ( ^ ), is placed over vowels with a broad or open sound: as, âme, même, île, and generally marks the suppression (elision) of one or more letters: as, âne (Old Fr. asne, Lat. asinus); âme (Old Fr. amme, anme; Lat. anima); sûr (Old Fr. seür, Lat. securus); vous aimâtes (Old Fr. amastis, Lat. aimastes); qu'il aimât (Old Fr. aimast, amasset); connaître (Old Fr. conoistre, Lat. cognoscere); devoûment (for devouement); gaiment (for gaiement).

́Observation.-Like the accent grave, the circumflex also serves to distinguish two words otherwise spelt alike: as,

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

(4) The Apostrophe, l'apostrophe, indicates the elision of a final vowel before a word beginning with a vowel or silent h: as,

l'ami, l'habitude, instead of le ami, la habitude.

This elision (which is not optional) occurs in the following words :—le; la; je, me, te, se; de; ne; que; jusque; except je, ce, le, la, when they stand after their Verb: as,

j'aime, but suis-je aimé ; c'est elle, but est-ce elle?

i is elided in si only, before il, ils: as,

s'il, s'ils, but si elle.

The e of presque is elided only in presqu'ile (peninsula).

The e of entre only in compound words : as, entr'acte, entr'ouvert. The e of lorsque, puisque, quoique only before Personal Pronouns and the Indef. Article: as, puisqu'elle, quoiqu'une ; [in quelque only before un and autre: quelqu'un, quelqu'autre.]

« PreviousContinue »