On the unified change of directional/aspectual verb particles in French

  • Michelle Troberg University of Toronto Mississauga
  • Justin Leung University of Toronto
Keywords: French, Romance, argument structure, particles


The categoric loss of verb particles in the history of French remains problematic in diachronic accounts of Medieval French syntax and Romance syntax in general. There is surprisingly little convergence in the literature about the cause of change and previous quantitative studies in the last 10 years are inconclusive about whether or not the particles pattern as a single unified change or as a series of gradual low-level lexical changes. To address this issue, we test the hypothesis that the Constant Rate Effect (CRE; Kroch 1989) applies to this phenomenon by examining the time course of change of four verb particles: jus ‘down’, fors/hors ‘out’, arrière ‘back’ and avant ‘forward’ as they appear in 770 texts that date from 1150 to 1699. Our findings, supported by the statistical tools of logistic regression and mixed-effects Poisson regression, establish that the particles change at a constant rate, consistent with an analysis whereby the loss of each particle is a reflex of an underlying grammatical change. The study has implications for the formal description of the broader typological change involving motion events that occurred in the evolution from Latin to Modern French.