Atelier de Phonologie

Timothée Premat | 6th century French final schwa: from variation to diachrony, an OT account
Mercredi 17 Mars 2021 - 10:00 à 12:00
Lieu détaillé: 



Final schwa is considered to be an epenthetic vowel in Standard Contemporary French. This was not always the case: in Old French (8th – 14th centuries), final schwa was a vowel present in both the underlying representation and the surface form. Manuals and grammars of French phonetic/phonological diachrony converge to say that final schwa in the UR begins to be deleted during the Middle French period (14th – 16th centuries), starting with hiatus contexts : ə → Ø / V__# (= contraction, like amie /ami.ə/ realized [ãmi]) (GGHF, p. 477, §384). The 16th century turns out to be a period of great changes. It sees the trend that started with contraction spread to other contexts and develop into the general apocope of final schwa. Accordingly, the distribution of final schwas in surface representations became independent of its possible existence underlyingly.

This talk begins with data from the testimony of numerous 16th century grammarians and from metrical habits (versification). Generalizations are then provided about final schwa contraction/apocope and elision. Finally, an Optimality Theoretic analysis is put forth that covers both synchronic variation (diastratic/stylistic and diatopic) and diachronic evolution.

We model final schwa behavior in the 16th century using only three constraints (Max, *Hiatus and *Schwa) and three grammatical mechanisms. These are: i. Local Constraints Conjunction (LCC, Green 1993 ; Smolensky 1993); ii. Locus Specification (applied to LCC: Łubowicz 2005); and iii. Partial Ranking (Antilla 1997). We also show that partial ranking accounts not only for synchronic variation, but also for how diachronic evolution can emerge from synchronic variation.  The account therefore sheds light on how final schwa in French  became an epenthetic vowel. We close with an extrapolation regarding the emergence of the fully epenthetic final schwa of contemporary French.