Language & cognition – Space, perception, grammaticalization

Language & cognition – Space, perception, grammaticalization

Language & cognition – Space, perception, grammaticalization

I study the evolution of Romance languages from Latin to modern times, specializing in Old French and other medieval Romance varieties. My focus is on grammaticalization phenomena, more specifically on weeding out the contextual and the accidental from more universal features, thus adding a typological perspective to a very detailed, corpus-based, language-specific analysis. In my talk, I will present a few results which show the limits and (hopefully) the advantages of this approach.

For instance, it is often taken for granted that spatial uses of adpositions come first, though some diachronic evidence points to the contrary, at least in a few instances. Looking in turn at vers, envers “toward”, dans “in(to)” and hors “out (of)”, I will try to outline possible systematicities in such evolutions.

Another interesting example is the subjectification of adverbials into discourse markers: how does it happen? Are spatial meanings as important in that case, too? Can we propose ‘grammaticalization chains’ for discourse markers, as has been done for other parts of speech? In order to address these questions, I will discuss a few cases, namely d’un côté “in a way” (lit. “on one side”), par ailleurs “by the way” (lit. “via elsewhere”), au fond “to tell the truth” (lit. “at the bottom”), alors “then”.

These investigations are systematically carried out on the following diachronic corpora: BFM (Medieval French Database), DMF (Database for the Dictionary of Middle French) and Frantext – along with the occasional use of Modern French corpora, including corpora of Spoken French, and diachronic corpora of other Romance languages (Corpus do Português, Corde, Corpus del Español, OVI, Midia).

Selected references (papers available at

(a) on adpositions

Fagard, B. & B. Combettes. 2013. De en à dans, un simple remplacement ? Une étude diachronique. Langue française 178, 93-115.

Fagard, B. & W. De Mulder. 2010. Devant : Evolution sémantique d’une préposition en français. Actes de la Conférence mondiale de linguistique française.

Fagard, B. 2009. Vers, du français classique au français moderne ou contemporain : l’aboutissement d’une grammaticalisation ?Revue québécoise de linguistique 33(1), 5-29.

Fagard, B. & L. Sarda. 2009. Etude diachronique de la préposition dans. In J. François, E. Gilbert, C. Guimier & M. Krause (eds), Autour de la préposition. Caen : Presses Universitaires de Caen, 225-236.

Fagard, B. 2008. ‘Côté’ dégrammaticalisation – le cas des prépositions. In B. Fagard, S. Prévost, B. Combettes & O. Bertrand (eds), Evolutions en français, Berne : Peter Lang, 87-104.

Fagard, B. 2007. De puis à depuis : préfixation et évolution sémantique, in B. Combettes & C. Marchello-Nizia (eds), Etudes sur le changement linguistique du français. Nancy: Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 129-143.

(b) on discourse markers

Fagard, B. & L. Sarda. 2014. From local adverbials to discourse markers: Three case studies in the diachrony of French. In L. Sarda, S. Carter-Thomas, B. Fagard & M. Charolles (eds), 203-238.

Charolles, M. & B. Fagard. 2012. En effet en français contemporain : de la confirmation à la justification/explication. Le français moderne 80(2), 137-164.

Fagard, B. 2011. La construction ‘en effet’ dans les langues romanes médiévales et la question de l’emprunt. Osla 3(1), Discourse markers in Romance languages, 69-94.

Degand, L. & B. Fagard. 2011. Alors between discourse and grammar: the role of syntactic position, Functions of Language 18(1), 19-56.

Fagard, B. 2010. É vida, olha…: Imperatives as discourse markers and grammaticalization paths in Romance – A diachronic corpus study. Languages in Contrast 10(2), 245-267.