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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 12, 2018

Jean de Joinville and the Old French rhotic consonant

Peter Chekin


Based on textual evidence from Jean de Joinville’s Vie de saint Louis, this article argues that the Old French rhotic consonant /r/ had a dorsal pronunciation for at least some groups of medieval Francophones. This argument counters the prevailing view that medieval French /r/ was uniformly apical, and that the now-standard dorsal pronunciation only emerged in the early modern period. The article then develops the hypothesis that dorsal /r/ came into Old French as a result of Germanic influence, and not as a spontaneous development. For this purpose, it first surveys the current state of the debate about the origins of dorsal /r/ in the Germanic languages and evaluates the merits of its principal arguments in the light of Joinville’s testimony. The article then advances a sociolinguistic argument in favor of the Germanic-origins hypothesis. Using the available evidence for the interactions between Germanic- and Romance-speakers at the dawn of the written French language, it proposes that Carolingian-era nobles who were native speakers of Franconian dialects brought this pronunciation of /r/ into Old French, and that this sound subsequently persisted in some Old French aristocratic speech as part of a prestige accent.

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Published Online: 2018-11-12
Published in Print: 2018-11-07

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