This paper describes the diachronic development of labile verbs in the French causative-anticausative alternation. The aim is to show that the development is best described with the notion of persistence (defined as “endurance under competition”). In the first part of the paper I will show that French labile verbs indeed had (and still have) a serious competitor, viz. the reflexively marked anticausative. While mostly labile verbs were used to encode the alternation in 12th century Old French, in present-day French the pattern with a formally derived anticausative dominates. In the second part of the paper I will focus on the second aspect of the notion persistence and provide the following empirical evidence for the endurance of the labile pattern: (i) the high number of labile verbs used to express the alternation in present-day French, (ii) labile verbs in the French causative-anticausative alternation are not just remnants from an older stage of the language, (iii) the decrease in lability is a very slow process, and (iv) unmarked anticausatives still appear in the same semantic contexts as reflexive anticausatives.
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