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At present, R.W. is preparing a doctoral thesis in French linguistics under the supervision of Professor Wolfgang Raible in the University of Freiburg im Breisgau. Her thesis is a study of the syntax of Acadian speech, conducted as a component of ongoing research at Freiburg on the varieties of spoken French in their North American and Creole dialects. A grant from the Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD) enabled her to do fieldwork while based at the Université de Moncton (New Brunswick, Canada) under the supervision of Professor Louise Péronnet. Her stay in Canada produced a sizeable corpus of Acadian speech. In 1998, R.W. was awarded a doctoral scholarship by the University in Freiburg ("Landesgraduiertenförderung").
The spoken patterns of Acadian French in the Canadian maritime provinces constitute one of the many varieties of non-continental French that are descendants of 17th and 18th century French. R.W.'s primary interest is a structural comparison of the linguistic systems that formed independantly of one another within this family of descendants. The regional varieties of French in question here are distinguished by the fact that they were not subjected to the normative pressures of standard French, since the influence of standard French seems to be only a recent phenomenon. For this reason, non-continental varieties of French offer fertile ground for comparative studies that aspire to shed light on the topic of linguistic change in general. R.W.'s specific approach in this study is determined by consideration of the following aspects and fields in linguistics:
- typology and the question of linguistic universals,
since the particular structures of every language can
be compared only through reference to a background
of cognitive concepts valid for all languages.
- linguistic change arising from intrasystemic factors.
- pragmatic factors that bring about linguistic change.
- sociolinguistic factors: minority languages, linguistic politics, contact between languages, institutional and individual bilingualism, linguistic identity, the modalities of writing and of normative structures in a primarly oral language.
- discursive and transphrastic linguistics.
- corpus linguistics.
In order to determine the crucial factors in the evolution of these different varieties of French, it is at first necessary to distinguish between surviving dialectal usages and true innovations. Robert Chaudenson offers a helpful model for making sense of this distinction, introducing the notion of an interlinguistic continuum, where the linguistic systems descended from standard French are placed on an imaginary line according to the structural differences that separate them. Chaudenson also presents the useful corollary theoretical notion of a super-system, called français zéro, that includes all the variables of the French linguistic system. Thus a variable, that represents a variational sub-system, manifests itself in Acadian and in other varieties of French by means of diverse variants.
For my study, this notion of français zéro will require a properly universal dimension. As such, the notion of the variable shall represent a purely cognitive universal concept independant of specific languages. Similarly, the universal concept of junction, elaborated by Wolfgang Raible, will permit an analysis of the syntactical techniques available in Acadian and the other varieties; these techniques serve to resolve syntactical problems such as the chaining of utterances. This universal dimension presents itself as a continuum between two extremes called aggregation and integration. Aggregation is the situation where the utterances are simply juxtaposed without the support of any explicit syntactical links. Conversely, integration deplays more complex grammatical techniques in order to emphasize syntactical links between utterances.
This project proposes the study of a specific linguistic corpus, established by my fieldwork in southeastern New Brunswick (Canada). The transcription is taken from 11 hours of conversation in Acadian French. In its presentation, the diversity of communicational situations is taken into account. The corpus includes the spontaneous conversations of multiple speakers, as well as examples of more formal discourse. The recordings have been transcribed according to the HIAT system elaborated by Konrad Ehlich, where a derivation from standard written orthography, called literary transcription, is used (Ehlich, 1993, p. 126). In conversations where there are several speakers, partitions separate each voice graphically on the page as though in a musical score (Ehlich, 1993, p. 129) . In this way, each change of speaker or overlap can be clearly represented by the text. The transcription reflects an awareness of non-phonological phenomena like laughter and of the situational context of the examples. Also, the final corpus shall include an interlinear English translation.
In order to illustrate the approach outlined here, it will help to quote an example taken from an analysis of the conjunction of several utterances, here expressing the logical relations proper to a conditional situation:
In spoken language, combined utterances are often simply juxtaposed. Their syntactical relationships or logical links are not necessarily rendered explicit. It then becomes the listener's task to establish a link between the different utterances. This kind of activity requires a technique similar to that of aggregation. Here is an example taken from our Acadian corpus:
(1)j'ai mon char pis i y a des femmes d'alentour tu
sais icitte * i veulent aller à
I have my car and there are women around here you know if they want to go to
Saint-Anne voir/ voir le docteur ou veulent aller à
Rexton ben là faut les
Saint-Anne to the doctor or if they want to go to Rexton then somebody has
mener parce que les hommes ça les tanne.
to take them because the men it bothers them
Here, the conditional sense linking the utterances remains implicit. The listener is nonetheless directed toward a conditional relation because in Acadian French discursive particles such as ben, ben là, là, mais là are often pronounced in correlation with the subordinate conjunction si and mark the beginning of the principal clause:
(2)ouais si qu'alle a ses petits là ben là
. tu sais alle va les faire/ a' va les protéger.
yeah if she has her little ones well you know she will protect them
The same phenomenon appears in Louisiana French (Stäbler 1995a, p. 179). It then follows that the grammaticalisation of this correlation between the discursive particle and the subordinate conjunction may be considered. Under such a proposition, a construction such as the one in example (1) would represent the realization of a general tendency inherent to the system. The discursive particle alone would fulfill the function of the subordinate conjunction which would itself now become optional or even superfluous.
However, the structure of the hypothetical sentences reveals another tendency which is of remarkable interest. On this point, Acadian French seems to have remained at an earlier linguistic stage than Louisiana French. Yet, at the same time, Acadian French shows itself to be more innovative than its continental French counterpart in several aspects. For example, in hypothetical sentences, the conditional is the only mode employed in the subordinate clause in Louisiana French (Stäbler 1995a, p. 179), while Acadian French often has recourse to two separate possibilities, the conditional and the imperfect:
(3)si j'avais l'argent j'aimerais d'aller . . du côté
d'où ce que mes ancêtres de viennent.
if I had the money I would like to go to where my ancestors come from
(4)si le gouvernement dirait à Québec
. . . tu veux te séparer . arrange-toi avec
if the government would say to Québec you want to separate get by with your
ressources naturelles . pas d'aide du gouvernement fédéral
le gouvern/ euh le Québec
natural resources no governmental aid Québec
pourrait pas arriver.
couldn't do it
Nevertheless, the use of the conditional in subordinate clauses is more frequent than the use of the imperfect in Acadian French. The tendency toward a linguistic stage of which Louisiana French would be the extreme realization seems inherent to the Acadian system. Indeed, this tendency seems to go even further, as illustrated in the following example. Here, the conditional fulfills the syntactical function of subordination, foregoing the aid of any sort of subordinate conjunction:
(5) ces sacs-là nous-autres au jour d'aujourd'hui tu irais acheter un sac de farine de those sacks there us today you would go buy a sack of flour like
même . on va mettre ça au chemin la semaine
that we'll put that out to the road next week
The tendency of employing the conditional in the subordinate clause may also be found in popular continental spoken French. Such occurrences often appear, for example, in the speech of children but are repressed by strong normative pressures. It remains to be seen whether the still-recent influence of standard French will curb evolutionary tendencies of Acadian French. In this context, an analysis of the structures available to the Creole systems promises much new information. For the time being, however, we may conclude that Acadian French represents, in this special case, an intermediary phase on the interlinguistic continuum. Acadian speech has given free sway to the general use of the conditional in place of the imperfect, while this same evolutionary tendency is repressed by normative pressures in France. Meanwhile, Cadian French in Louisiana has succeeded in taking this tendency to its extreme.
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