LINGUIST List 24.2502

Thu Jun 20 2013

Disc: Germanic Influence on French Syntax

Editor for this issue: Brent Miller <>

Date: 20-Jun-2013
From: Kevin McCabe <>
Subject: Germanic Influence on French Syntax
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French is singled out as exceptional for being a non-null subject Romance language, with a set of syntactic features characteristic of such languages (European ones, anyway).

I don’t understand why explanations for its divergent nature commonly mention underlying influence from Germanic languages. It’s acknowledged that French was originally a null-subject language and remained so until about the mid 16th century, a time of major phonological changes, including the effacement of most final consonants in speech except in liaison situations, which rendered many verb endings indistinguishable by ear.

Did Germanic influence suddenly flare up in 16th century France? This would be more plausible with a minority tongue surrounded by a dominant Germanic language, as is thought to have happened with Swiss Rhaeto-Romance varieties. The explanation that French went through a period when its syntax became strongly verb-second doesn’t sound especially convincing, given that other Romance languages seem to have gone through a similar phase.

Wouldn’t the loss of rich agreement in the spoken verb, as the result of those radical phonological changes during the Middle French period, have been sufficient to trigger the change to a non-null subject type of language?

Thanks for your consideration.

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): French (fra)

Page Updated: 20-Jun-2013