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Re: French gerunds

From:Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
Date:Tuesday, February 11, 2003, 21:03
En réponse à Simen Rustad <simen-r@...>:

> > Is there any theory of why the gerund of the verb _avoir_ is _ayant_? > The > other irregulars are, after all, not really irregular (if you use the > imparfait to supply the stem, that is). Do you know why this happened? > My > original theory was that _avons_ < **_ayons_ in the present tense by > influence from _avez_, but this seems to be disproved by the > imperatives > (_ayons_, _ayez_). Oh, my amateur linguistics. > > ::leaves room for the experts and crosses fingers:: >
OK, just checked my booklet about Old French, and here is what I gather from it: In Old French, the stress alternances on verbal forms had produced many alternations. Many verbs had basically two different roots (sometimes more), a weak one (normally non-accented) and a strong one (usually, but not always, accented). This still appears in some modern verbs (like "venir" which does "je viens" - strong root - but "nous venons" - weak root -, or the two possible forms of "pouvoir": "je peux" or "je puis"). Modern French lost a lot of those alternations by levelling ("aimer" used to have a ai-a alternation). "Disner" was even separated into two verbs because the two roots were getting too far from each other ("disner" had "je desjun" but "nous disnons"! It is the origin of the two modern verbs "déjeuner" and "dîner"). Now the thing is that the present participle was formed by adding -anz to the *weak* form (just like most imperfects were based on the weak root), but the *strong* form was gaining strength very fast by levelling(the original participle for "aimer" - "amer" at that time - was "amanz" - and is still present in "amant": "lover"). It seems that it's what happened with "avoir". It had many different roots, but the two principal ones were the weak one "av-" and the strong one "ai-" (later "ay-"). And like many verbs, its strong form took over the formation of the present participle, and being an irregular verb it was not levelled later. Hence the current "ayant" form. As for the imperative of "avoir", it was completely lost during evolution and was integrally replaced by its subjunctive (like with a few other verbs, like "savoir" giving "sache"), which was regularly "aie(s), etc...". Historical linguistics are complicated in the matter of French verbs because Old French verbs suffered from so many alternations but most were levelled in various irregular ways (the problem with those alternations is that they had nearly no functional load, and thus were quickly but dirtily regularised, while sometimes non-regularised forms subsisted but as nouns or adjectives, like the previous "amant", but also "puissant": powerful which used to be the present participle of "pouvoir"), and our irregular verbs have remains of those times. It's not a trivial question, and my explanation is a bit crude, but you should get the jist of it :) . Christophe. Take your life as a movie: do not let anybody else play the leading role.


Simen Rustad <simen-r@...>
Douglas Koller, Latin & French <latinfrench@...>Två frågor om svenska