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Old French vs. Modern French: a few notes

From:John Cowan <cowan@...>
Date:Sunday, September 12, 2004, 22:14
First of all, I should point out that I obscured the Old French orthography
in my eagerness to make the point about "manger pain" vs. "manger du pain";
that would have been "mangier pain" [mandZi'er pain] vs. "mangier del pain",
as "du" had not yet evolved.

Second, here's a more complete list of survivals from the old two-case
system.  In addition to soeur and coeur and pretre, peintre and traitre
are also cases where the nominative displaced the oblique case.  I am
no longer sure that presbytere represents the old oblique: it may be
a more recent (re)borrowing.  The pairs copain/compagnon, gars/garcon,
patre/pasteur, chantre/chanteur, maire/majeur are all old
nominative/oblique forms that have become separate nouns; the triple
sire/sieur/seigneur (nom./obl./obl.) also belongs here, as does

The singular forms chapeau, chateau, and genou are all analogical
formations: the O.F. forms were chapel/chapeaus, chastel/chasteaus,
and genoil/genous, but the singulars were lost and new singulars
were made by back-formation.

Another example of English-like syntax from well into the Middle
French period is "Je que suis Fortune nommee", which matches
"I who am called Fortune" fairly well, and even "I who am Fortune
called" is possible in poetry (which this is); the modern French
syntax (as in "Moi, Fortune, je parlerai" from the same poem) is
impossible in English.

Finally, there are a whole bunch of inherited Old French words that
were replaced by Latinisms from the same root:  antif>antique,
batoier > baptiser, beneic,on > benediction, cloufichier > crucifier,
excomengier > excommunicer, grief > grave, mecine > medecine,
rade > rapide, and treu" > tribut are some of the more notable ones.
Another of the same type is souef > suave; the Old French form got
into Middle English as swef, now lost; suave was borrowed by Modern
English.  Glaive < Latin GLADIUM meant "lance" in Old French, but
was semantically reshaped to mean "sword", the same as the Latin word.

John Cowan
Lope de Vega: "It wonders me I can speak at all.  Some caitiff rogue did
rudely yerk me on the knob, wherefrom my wits still wander."
An Englishman: "Ay, a filchman to the nab betimes 'll leave a man
crank for a spell." --Harry Turtledove, Ruled Britannia