LINGUIST List 12.1702

Mon Jul 2 2001

Review: Ayres-Bennett and Carruthers

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  1. Anne Violin, Submission for Ayres-Bennett and Carruthers

Message 1: Submission for Ayres-Bennett and Carruthers

Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2001 17:17:45 -0500
From: Anne Violin <>
Subject: Submission for Ayres-Bennett and Carruthers

Ayres-Bennett, Wendy and Janice Carruthers with Rosalind
Temple (2001) Studies in the Modern French Language:
Problems and Perspectives, Longman, paperback, xix,
406 pp. (includes Notes and Indexes)

Anne Violin-Wigent, Purdue University

This book focuses on structural aspects of contemporary
French that have been problematic or controversial in
previous analyses. It explores many areas of French
linguistics and provides several theoretical proposals
to account for them, hence offering a comparison (both
in terms of the strengths and weaknesses) between such
analyses. It covers a wide range of areas such as
phonology (with the study of word-final consonants,
nasal vowels, and schwa), morphology (including aspect,
tense, and mood/modality), syntax (with analyses of
pronominal verbs, word order, clause relations, and
negation), and lexis (with neologisms and word creation
processes) . The main goal of this book is not to
provide one single analysis according to one particular
theory, but rather to compare and evaluate the strengths
and weaknesses of several accounts, 'without necessarily
offering solutions' (Ayres-Bennett and Carruthers
2001:xvii). There is no special section on historical
phenomena or sociolinguistic variation because concepts
from these two fields are integrated in the discussion
when appropriate.

This book could easily be used in graduate-level classes
and seminars. Although it provides a good summary of
the problems (in part I) before going into the
discussion (in part II), the depth of such discussion is
probably too advanced for undergraduate students. As
for graduate students, it provides numerous directions
for research in many areas. It also promotes critical
thinking since it presents several alternatives to a
problem without providing 'the solution.'

Part I consists of four sections and is intended as a
preliminary introduction to the second part of the book.
The first section presents different levels of variation
in French, be it stylistic (with registers),
geographical, or social. The second section reviews the
definitions of the main concepts of French linguistics
as well as the metalanguage used to describe them.
Section 3 briefly presents some of the approaches and
schools that have been used to analyze the problems
defined in section 2. These include structuralism,
generative grammar, typological models, variationist
approaches, as well as 'national French approaches.'
Finally, in section 4, the authors explain why they
chose both the topics discussed in section 2 and the
approaches presented in section 3 for this book.

Part II comprises 13 chapters. Chapter 1 analyzes word-
final consonants as well as liaison. After presenting
the problem in more detail than in part I, the authors
proceed with the theoretical analysis following the
precepts of generative phonology (both abstract and
concrete) and non-linear phonology. This is followed by
a short analysis of liaison and of the consequences that
this phenomenon has on the approach of word-final
consonants. The account of liaison, though brief,
incorporates some elements from syntax and variationist
theory. Throughout this chapter, the key elements and
questions and the alternative analyses advanced by
various schools are presented simply but thoroughly.

Chapter 2 studies nasal vowels and the on-going
question of whether they are underlying or derived.
After a brief history of how nasal vowels arose in
French, the authors study the present state and
evolution of the vowels /E~/ (low mid front nasal vowel)
and /oe~/ (low mid front rounded nasal vowel) and call
for a model that can incorporate the changing situation
of these two vowels. This is followed by the
theoretical discussion of nasal vowels in alternating
and non-alternating forms as well as in liaison
contexts. The theories chosen for this purpose are
generative phonology (both abstract and concrete) and
non-linear phonology. The chapter ends with a brief
description of the difference between nasal vowels in
southern French and in standard French as well as of the
implications that such a difference bears on theoretical

Chapter 3 focuses on schwa in French. It first defines
schwa, both in terms of its phonetic identity and of its
orthographic correspondences. The authors proceed to
describe the phonological behavior and phonemic status
of schwa before delving into the central problem: how do
phonological theories account for schwa~zero
alternations? To do so, they consider both epenthesis
and deletion hypotheses, linking them with the issue of
word-final consonants. The chapter concludes with a
sociolinguistic analysis which explains the influence
that factors such as age, regional origin, and register
may have on the pronunciation or non-realization of
schwa in contemporary French.

Chapter 4 is the first of four chapters dealing with
morphological phenomena concerning verbs. This chapter
centers around the issues of grouping verbs into classes
and of the basis for such groupings. It exposes the
problems of segmenting verbs into discrete morphemes
(especially on the identity of the stem or stems) and
the consequences that such segmentation has on defining
verb classes. The authors contrast analyses that
result in a low number of classes at the cost of a more
complicated definition of such classes with analyses
having more numerous, but more homogeneous classes.
Throughout this chapter, a question is omnipresent: what
exactly is irregularity? This issue is addressed at
the end of the chapter along with the direction of
change and variation in the verbal system.

Chapter 5 studies aspect in French. It begins with an
introduction reviewing the difference between aspect and
tense and listing some aspectual categories. This is
followed by a brief section on lexical aspect, stressing
that aspect is not solely a verbal property. To compare
various approaches to aspect in French, the authors
choose three tests which they consider aspectual in
nature: the distinction between the 'pass� simple'
(simple past) and the 'imparfait' (imperfect past), the
literary periphrasis 'aller' (to go)+ present
participle, and lexical oppositions such as 'chercher
vs. trouver' (to look for vs. to find). The second test
('aller' + present participle) may be questionable in a
book focused on contemporary French since this
periphrasis is, as they recognize, 'highly literary and
effectively defunct in most varieties of French' (Ayres-
Bennett and Carruthers 2001:159). This chapter
concludes with the question of whether aspect is a
useful category in French. Various examples, especially
from newspaper articles, show that aspect is an
important category in the domain of stylistics and
discourse analysis.

In chapter 6, the analysis of the past tenses and of the
changing relationship between them is undertaken. After
a brief, but thorough, description of all the past
tenses in French, the investigation centers on the
evolution of the relationship between the 'pass� simple'
(simple past) and the 'pass� compos�' (compound past).
After presenting the many factors that have influenced
the historical evolution of these two tenses, the
discussion focuses on Modern French and on the functions
carried out by each of these tenses. Because it is
impossible to analyze two past tenses without reference
to the other past tenses in French, the authors finish
this chapter with a brief study of these tenses
('imparfait' imperfect, 'pass� ant�rieur' past anterior,
'plus-que-parfait' pluperfect, and 'pass� surcompos�'
double compound past). All of the tenses in this
chapter are analyzed both in a diachronic and synchronic
perspective, stressing the complex and changing
relationship between them.

Chapter 7 examines the use of the subjunctive in French
by addressing the following questions: does the
subjunctive mark several 'values' such as unreality,
possibility, doubt, and judgement? Is it simply the
mark of a subordinate clause, devoid or semantic values?
Or can these two views be reconciled into a unified
account? After presenting answers to these questions,
the authors outline problematic cases such as the use of
the subjunctive in noun and adjectival clauses. They
proceed to explore the vitality of the present and
imperfect subjunctive, both from a historical
perspective and a synchronic point, which includes
sociolinguistic and stylistic elements. They conclude
this chapter by providing some alternative markers of

Chapter 8 marks the beginning of the syntax section of
this book. This chapter explores various issues raised
by pronominal verbs. It begins with the question of
voice and whether there is a third voice (called the
middle or pronominal voice) in French besides active and
passive. This is followed by a detailed discussion of
the criteria that have been used to classify pronominal
verbs into separate categories. Finally, in the wake of
the discussion on voice, the pronominal passive is
analyzed to see 1) the constraints on its usage by
opposition with a true passive, 2) the reasons to select
one or the other, and 3) the other alternatives to the
passive, especially 'faire'/'se faire' and 'voir'/'se

Chapter 9 studies word order by focusing on declarative
sentences. The historical analyses presented (both in
terms of traditional and typological approaches) show
that the evolution that led to the present-day subject-
verb-object (SVO) order is best explained in terms of
several factors, not simply by the loss of case endings.
>From a synchronic perspective, the authors discuss
whether Modern French is still an SVO language.
Examples of detachments (or dislocations), inversion,
and cleft constructions point to some of the
implications that these constructions have on the
analysis of French syntax. They raise questions
regarding the status of subject clitics (have they
become mere morphological affixes?) and the function of
detachments (are they pragmatically or stylistically
marked or do they reflect a change in word order?)

In chapter 10, the relation between clauses in sentences
is analyzed. This chapter begins by exposing the
problems in defining subordination and coordination and
by providing various alternatives used by researchers.
Subordination is then explored in the light of the
spoken language. In particular, the authors look at the
forms that subordinate clauses take in the spoken medium
as far as the choice of the relative pronoun and the
presence of a pleonastic clitic are concerned. Finally,
the authors study whether the progression from
coordination to subordination is a reliable marker of
linguistic sophistication. They do so according to
factors such as language acquisition, social groups, and
discourse type. At the same time, they touch on to the
notion of syntactic complexity.

Chapter 11 centers around negations. After a brief
discussion of the terminology, the authors study the
scope of negation (total or sentential negation) along
with the constraints on negative raising in French
(especially the verbs allowing negative raising). They
then focus on whether 'ne...que' (only) and the so-
called expletive 'ne' should be analyzed as negative
constructions. They do so by showing differences
between these two constructions and negative
constructions. This chapter concludes with an analysis
of the loss of 'ne' and the consequent marking of
negation by 'pas' alone. This is undertaken both from a
historical point of view and synchronically, through the
analysis of how syntactic, phonetic, semantic, lexical,
stylistic, and demographic factors influence the
retention of 'ne.'

Chapters 12 and 13 explore lexical phenomena, and more
particularly neologisms. In chapter 12, the focus is on
the difference between borrowings and native neologisms.
After outlining the difficulties in defining and
statistically measuring borrowings, the authors examine
the factors and implications of the phonological,
morphosyntactic, and semantic integration of borrowings.
The section on hybrids (e.g. 'le surbooking'
overbooking) and pseudo-anglicisms (e.g. 'le baby-foot'
foosball and 'un lifting' face lift) is followed by a
brief study of the status of Latin and Greek material
for creating neologisms and their productivity. This
chapter ends with a summary of different attitudes
towards neologisms and borrowings in particular.

Chapter 13 concentrates on internal or native processes
of word creation in French. It begins with definitional
issues, especially the problematic distinction between
prefixation, compounding, and free combination. The
authors also analyze the productivity of such processes
in terms of their variation (according to the level of
formality, sociolinguistic factors, and domain), their
linguistic constraints, and the implications they have
for language change. In the spirit of the whole book,
they examine how the creation of neologisms is captured
by linguistics theories as well as what prevents some
possible words from occurring. The aim of the final
section of this chapter is to assess the impact of
native neologisms on the semantic, morphosyntactic, and
phonological structure of French.

The main strength of this book probably lies in the fact
that it incorporates into the discussion elements that
are generally kept separate. Rather than presenting a
single analysis of the issues according to one
particular theory, the authors compare several
approaches, underlining their strengths and weaknesses.
At the same time, diachronic and sociolinguistic
considerations are integrated into the discussion when
appropriate, instead of being in a separate section.
Doing so helps shedding light on the motivation behind a
particular approach or showing its strengths or its
limitations. The choice of the issues presented allows
for the possibility of linking the discussion in one
particular chapter with issues raised in another. For
example, elements discussed in the chapter on word-final
consonants are echoed in the chapters on nasal vowels
and on schwa. Finally, the breadth of the book is to be
recognized since it covers key-issues from all the areas
of French linguistics, from phonetics and phonology, to
morphology, syntax, and lexical phenomena.

For graduate students (the intended audience), this book
shows that the search for the perfect analysis is an on-
going project. It teaches not only flexibility by
forcing the readers to go from one theory to another,
but also, and perhaps most importantly, critical
thinking by going beyond the surface of each theory and
by showing the strengths and weaknesses associated with
the theoretical analyses presented. The authors have
encompassed main-stream theories (such as structuralism
and generative grammar) as well as minor ones (such as
national French approaches) to show different way of
analyzing the same problems. They have, however,
excluded Optimality Theory (probably because it is still
a recent development) in spite of the growing number of
publications exploring French within the framework of
Optimality Theory (see for instance, Gess 1997, and
Tranel 1996, 1998, and 2000).

Another strength of this book is in the many directions
it opens for research. By exposing both the problems
raised by the theoretical analyses under discussion as
well as the problematic data, this book encourages more
research to be done in these areas. This is reinforced
by the fact that each chapter ends with suggested
reading organized by theme.

In conclusion, 'Studies in the Modern French Language:
Problems and Perspectives' has both breadth and depth
and is the ideal candidate for a textbook for graduate-
level classes in French linguistics.

Gess, Randall Scott (1997) Optimality Theory in the
 Historical Phonology of French, Seattle: University
 of Washington
Tranel, Bernard (1996) Exceptionality in Optimality
 Theory and Final Consonants in French. Grammatical
 Theory and Romance Languages: Selected Papers from
 the 25th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages
 XXV (2-4 March 1995) ed. by Karen Zagona, 275-291,
 Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co
- (1996) French Liaison and Elision Revisited: A
 Unified Account within Optimality Theory. Aspects
 of Romance Linguistics: Selected Papers from the
 Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages XXIV (10-
 13 March 1994) ed. by Claudia Parodi, Carlos
 Quicoli, Mario Saltarelli, & Maria Luisa
 Zubizarreta, 433-455, Washington, DC: Georgetown
 University Press
- (1998) Suppletion and OT: On the Issue of the
 Syntax/Phonology Interaction. Proceedings of the
 Sixteenth West Coast Conference on Formal
 Linguistics, ed. by Emily Curtis, James Lyle, &
 Gabriel Webster, 415-429, Stanford, CA: Center
 Study Language & Information
- (2000) Aspects de la phonologie du fran�ais et la
 th�orie de l'optimalit�, Langue Francaise 126.39-72

Anne Violin-Wigent has just finished her Ph.D. in French
linguistics at Purdue University. She has accepted a
position of assistant professor of French and director
of the French language program at Michigan State
University, starting in the fall of 2001. Her research
interests include French phonetics and phonology,
regional and social varieties of French, and discourse
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