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Proper name-marking via liaison in French

  • Natascha Pomino EMAIL logo and Elisabeth Stark


The liaison consonant [z] in French noun phrases has traditionally been assumed to function as a plural marker. The realization of “plural [z]” in N(oun)-A(djective)-combinations is becoming, however, very rare in naturalistic data – except for contexts which allow a proper-name reading. On the one hand, one might think that we are dealing with a recent phenomenon, the beginning of a potential linguistic change in French in the sense of exaptation, reuse of former morphophonological material such as plural markers to signal proper-namehood in the sense of ‘frozen morphology’. If this turns out correct, we expect the productivity of the new synchronic function to increase: New NA-combinations which function as proper names should be realized systematically with liaison, and proper name-marking via liaison should also become possible with other liaison consonants. On the other hand, we may be dealing with a (completed) diachronic process, in that only those NA-combinations which allowed liaison at the relevant point in time may have a liaison consonant in their univerbalized form. That is, new NA-combinations, even though they are used as proper names, do not display a liaison consonant, because liaison is no longer possible. The purpose of this paper was to investigate, based on empirical studies, whether liaison productively marks NA-combinations which function as proper names and distinguishes them from NA-combinations that count as common nouns, or whether we are dealing with a completed diachronic process. In view of the poor productivity observed, we argue that we are dealing with cases of univerbation.


We would like to thank one anonymous French native speaker who commented on our study published in 2016 indicating to us a preference for liaison when the respective NA-combination could be understood as a proper name. The pilot study dealt with in this paper would not have been possible without our 18 native speakers of French and Swiss origin in the first experiment, our 28 speakers in a follow-up experiment, and our scientific collaborators, Dr. Lena Baunaz (Geneva/Zurich) and Kathrin Neuburger (Wuppertal), who collected the data. All remaining shortcomings are, of course, ours.









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Published Online: 2019-11-07
Published in Print: 2019-11-26

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