William J. Ashby
[Studies in Language Companion Series 226] 2023
► pp. 419–450
Although the standard French norm prescribes that negation is marked twice in the verb phrase (ne…pas), contemporary usage prefers to drop the first element (ne) in Spoken French. In a 1981 article based on a corpus of Spoken French recorded in Tours in 1976, Ashby brought to light a significant co-variation/correlation between ne loss and speaker age: younger speakers dropped ne much more often than older speakers. This distribution seems to stem from a change in apparent time. However, as Labov (1994) notes, a linguistic feature that is more frequent in younger speakers does not necessarily indicate change in progress. One could assume that it could be due to age-grading, a phenomenon whereby speakers alter their linguistic behavior over the course of their lifetimes, while the grammar of the speech community remains stable and does not change. In order to distinguish between these two hypotheses (change in progress on the one hand, age grading on the other), this study compares distributions of the linguistic variable ne at two different points in time: the 1976 Tours corpus is paired with a new Tours corpus recorded in 1995. This comparison shows in real time that the loss of ne has accelerated – a finding which supports the change in progress hypothesis.