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Observations and Remarks on the French language

A study, with critical editions, of the genre of Observations on the French language

This international research project asks important questions about the genre of observations and remarks on the French language, a uniquely French type of metalinguistic work which appeared for the first time in the middle of the seventeenth century. These works differ from conventional grammars in a number of significant respects. For example, they are intended not for foreigners but for competent native speakers who wish to perfect their usage of French, and they typically comprise short, randomly ordered observations on doubtful usage rather than being organised according to the traditional part of speech model. The first, and most important, text is Claude Favre de Vaugelas’s Remarques sur la langue françoise (1647) which quickly became the authoritative work on good usage in seventeenth-century France. Subsequent volumes of observations adopt and adapt Vaugelas’s format, commenting on his pronouncements.

The project addresses key questions about how to define and delimit the genre. It considers its origins, nature and evolution and the ways in which it reflects, meets the needs of, and indeed shapes, its socio-cultural context. It explores the extent to which the comments of the remarqueurs are prescriptive or reflect contemporary changing usage. It is also concerned with the influence of the remarqueurs on the subsequent history of ideas in France and beyond. 

The principal investigator is Wendy Ayres-Bennett, University of Cambridge. She has published extensively on the history of the French language and on the history of linguistic thought in seventeenth-century France.

The project was funded by the AHRC from 1 March 2006 until 30 September 2009. Magali Seijido, who completed a PhD on Andry de Boisregard, one of the principal remarqueurs, in 2001 under the direction of Claire Blanche-Benveniste, was research associate for the project during this period.

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