Déterminants et noms de pays en français contemporain
Morphophonologie ou sémantique ?
This article deals with the particular function of feminine proper nouns as names of countries. Unlike masculine nouns, these often do not need the definite article: le président (de l’Italie/du Chili) vs la reine (du Danemark/de Suède), habiter (en France/au Danemark). Many explanations have been suggested: morphological ones (nouns ending in -e or beginning with a vowel), lexical ones (archaisms) or semantics ones (the presence/absence of a definite article conveying different sorts of locative meanings). None of these are completely satisfactory, however. In fact, proper nouns as names of countries may be considered as a sub-class of a locative noun-class which includes common nouns. These exhibit the same linguistic properties when their referent is unique: au ciel/en enfer, au printemps/en automne. Our assumption is that the en/dans opposition between activities and locations (être en prison/dans la prison) pervaded the en/à opposition. We shall establish that these constructions are phrases with a zero article and have semantic and syntactic properties associated with the meaning of specific activity. The consequence is that locative proper nouns cannot be considered as rigid designators. They have the same status as common nouns and can convey the persistent symbolic power of myths. This explains why the French say en juillet faucille au poignet, July being the harvest month, and why they speak of pêcheurs d’Islande not to refer to Islandic fishers but to the legend of cod-fishing in ancient times.
Keywords: names of countries, processivity, homogeneity, zero article, stereotypes, rigid designators
Published online: 02 June 2010