Chapter published in:Questioning Theoretical Primitives in Linguistic Inquiry: Papers in honor of Ricardo Otheguy
Edited by Naomi Shin and Daniel Erker
[Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics 76] 2018
► pp. 7–34
Categories of grammar and categories of speech
When the quest for symmetry meets inherent variability
This chapter tracks the response to morphosyntactic variability in a massive corpus of prescriptive grammars of French dating from the 16 th century through the present, and relates it to current mainstream approaches. Analysis shows that although variant forms have been recognized since the earliest times, only rarely have they been acknowledged as variant expressions of the same meaning or function. Instead three major strategies are marshaled to factor variability out. Their aim is not to prescribe or even describe, but simply to associate each form with a dedicated context of occurrence, in keeping with the dictates of the traditional grammatical categories from which they derive. This state of affairs is encapsulated in the Doctrine of Form-Function Symmetry. Although it fails to account for the data of spontaneous speech (which reveals asymmetry in the form of robust variability subject to regular conditioning instead), it continues to mold both prescriptive and formal linguistic treatments of variability, contributing to the growing gulf between prescription, description, and actual usage.
Keywords: prescription, praxis, variability, form-function symmetry, French, grammatical tradition, variationist sociolinguistics, Columbia School, linguistic variable, usage data
Published online: 06 December 2018
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