rate of language change

Larry Trask larryt at cogs.susx.ac.uk
Thu Feb 4 09:07:32 UTC 1999

On Sat, 30 Jan 1999, Rick Mc Callister wrote:


> >> Paul, Marie, elle a couche avec.
> >>you won't find this construction in any
> >>reference grammar of French.

> 	My colleague in French blanched when she saw this. She said this
> was the kind of French that "you heard in the Metro but that no one would
> admit to speaking."

Well, yes -- tremendous observation, and exactly my point.
Self-reporting and self-conscious judgements are not, in general,
reliable guides to the way a language is genuinely spoken.  Languages
change faster than we care to admit, and often in ways we don't care to

Recall the case of the Italian "personal a".  It's not described in any
grammar of Italian; Italian-speakers apparently often deny its existence
-- and yet observation has revealed that it is frequent.  Very likely
the Spanish "personal a" got started in the same way: as a vulgarism
that was beneath notice.  But today it's an established part of the
standard language, and omitting it where it's required constitutes "bad

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

larryt at cogs.susx.ac.uk

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