This textbook targets advanced undergraduate students and graduate students in French Departments in the United States. Most of the time, this introductory course is the first contact of the students with linguistics.
Therefore, the book will provide, through the study of French linguistics, the main concepts of general linguistics. Very often, linguistic textbooks are at pain to contrast linguistics with normative grammar and to provide the best formal criterion, morphological or distributional, as opposed to the notional criteria of school grammars, to define the grammatical categories of noun, word or subject. Written in the framework of Cognitive Grammar, a more recent approach to linguistics, this book takes a more conciliatory position.
Indeed, according to Cognitive Grammar, linguistic categories are not defined by one necessary and sufficient condition like mathematical categories but by a set of characteristic features. Prototypical members share all the characteristics while marginal members may violate some properties and are connected to the category by a family resemblance. Therefore, notional and formal criteria contribute to the definition of the main concepts in linguistics. Thus, the student learns all the criteria advocated by the different linguistic schools without having the painful impression of entering a battlefield where her/his first task is to forget what (s)he had been taught before.
In the first lessons, French will be located in space, compared to the typology of other languages, and in time, compared to Latin and to the different phases of its evolution. The student will realize that
French, typically described as an agglutinative language with a subject-verb-object word order, shares, in its less canonical aspects, characteristics with different types of languages. For example, in contrast to the typical word order in 'Ferdinand mange sa soupe', the sentence 'Ferdinand la mange' illustrates a subject-object-verb word order. Afterwards, the main steps in the history of French linguistics will be presented: the French Academy, Vaugelas, Port-Royal (XVIIth century), the Encyclopedia (XVIIIth century) and Ferdinand de Saussure (beginning of the XXth century).
Rather than a shallow exhaustive presentation of the structures of
French, the main part of the book will select a few "causes cilhbres" in French linguistics. In phonology, particular attention will be paid to nasal vowels, schwa or 'e' caduc and liaison. In morphology, the book will focus on the feminine of adjectives and on compound nouns and synapsies. The syntax section will delve on the place of adjectives, before or behind the noun; on the syntax of the pronouns y and en and on the syntax of presentatives in 'il y a un arbre/c'est un arbre'. In contrast with most textbooks, a fourth section will be devoted to the semantic study of French. As an illustration of polysemy, the students will be presented with the case of the preposition 'de'. As a partitive article, 'de' may also introduce mass terms. The book will finish with an analysis of the conjonction 'mais', which will introduce the students to pragmatics and the analysis of discourse.