Past participle agreement rule in Romance languages (and Latin?)

Iáson

Cívis Illústris
I live 50 km away from the Czech border and have 0 idea of Czech grammar ... and I don't know anyone who has, either.
But in ancient (or medieval) times the concept of a national border, with language A switching to language B when you cross it, was less of a phenomenon; standardised national languages are relatively recent in nature.
You might not be influenced by Czech directly, but at a village on the border people might be bilingual, and they might end up using Czech-like structures in German, and that could spread.

The 'have-perfect' structure is there in Hittite; I doubt it was an invention of Germanic languages that was calqued into Romance. However, it would also be a strange coincidence if languages in the same vague geographical region (cf. modern Greek as well) all simultaneously favoured a syntactic structure that is typologically quite rare. More likely, the seeds of this structure were present in both Germanic and Romance, but the fact that these language families were in close contact had a mutually-reinforcing effect that encouraged the prominence of the feature.
 

Godmy

A Monkey
I feel as if I'm derailing the thread.... historically, Germans were those beyond the mountains, so we didn't talk as much, we called them (and still do, although the word is not used in its original meaning anymore) "The Mutes" (Němci) because they seemed to speak gibberish apparently.... I'm not sure about Germans, but we borrowed heavily from German (but also were part of the Austrian empire for 300 years with our capital being really the Vindobona). We got "reslavicized" kind of artificially during a nationalistic (or perhaps romantic) movement in the 19th century, but still some structures and words stayed. For example we have a verb "muset" (must) which is used with infinitive... this is completely foreign to Slavic languages*, the root is not even present in Slavic languages originally :D (that I know of; at least not with this meaning) and that's a pretty central verb to the language: you can see how far it went.

*Edit: I learnt this word got to Polish and Ukrainian too! (but still, from German... via our political affiliation with the western empires)
 
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Bestiola

Speculatrix
Staff member
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Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
For example we have a verb "muset" (must) which is used with infinitive... this is completely foreign to Slavic languages*, the root is not even present in Slavic languages originally :D (that I know of; at least not with this meaning) and that's a pretty central verb to the language: you can see how far it went.
!!!!!!!!
 

Serenus

legātus armisonus
I find that rather speculative.

If you have a scenario like 1066, where English and French intermingled to a large degree, I can see the argument for a certain degree of grammatical influence. But other than that? In a widely illiterate society? How exactly is that supposed to work?
Usually it happens in chaotic ways, as things seep across languages by means of bilingual speakers or simply contact with non-native speakers who speak the local language rather badly and bring in constructions from their native language. No conquests needed.

Syntactic constructions in particular tend to seep across languages best, because native speakers of languages tend to have less of an emotional attachment to them. You may have noticed that when people complain about "anglicisms" today in European languages, most of the time they complain about the use of single words (to wipe > Spanish waipear/waipiar, to mop > mopear/mopiar, truck > la troca, webcam > el/la webcam, array > el arrey), much less often the meanings of words/prefixes/suffixes and still less so multi-word constructions.

You can easily find Spanish-speaking doctors who complain about el (e)scalp (the scalp of one's head, partly motivated because of its length in Spanish: el cuero cabelludo), less so the use of implicado meaning the same as English "implied" (implicado normally means 'involved [in a crime]'), and still less so doubly-stressed noun-noun compounds like tratamiento posparto (postpartum treatment) which are otherwise alien to Spanish. (Normally we'd expect the noun el posparto 'postpartum (phase)' to be used in a prepositional phrase: tratamiento de posparto, tratamiento en posparto, or otherwise the use of an adjetive: el tratamiento posnatal, perhaps pospartal.)

At large, whole areas of heavy contact and mutually-influenced grammars form, each of which is referred to as a "sprachbund" in English. You may find the Wikipedia article on the Balkan sprachbund amusing. Notice, for example, that modern Romanian usually forms the future with particles + the subjunctive, even though Western and Italo-Romance form it off the infinitive plus a reduced form of present-tense habēre (tenēre habet > *ten(e)r' át > Spanish tendrá, Italian terrà). I totally believe that Germanic and Romance have influenced each other when developing this "have + participle" construction on similar lines, if only to establish it, even though the influence may or may not have been unidirectional.
 
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Matthaeus

Vemortuicida strenuus
For example in Czech, this phrase works too, but it's not a separate tense either, it's more like a few phrases. 'Mám uvařeno/navařeno.' = habeō coctum ...
(in contrast with "uvařil jsem/navařil jsem" = coxī)
Brings to mind ... today's youth in Poland say things like mam wyjebane, "I don't give a fuck". :D
 

Serenus

legātus armisonus
By the way, regarding the topic of the thread...
What I would like to know is - and please excuse my ignorance of Latin - is there any justification for this rule in Latin grammar? Are present-day purists who oppose the reform of the French agreement rule by appealing to Latin misguided?
Human languages sometimes do develop rules that are based on whether something is found before or after a certain word. For example, in Spanish and much of Romance, there is a pattern that a definite direct object noun phrase that is topicalized to the front (the beginning of the sentence) is often mentioned again with a direct object pronoun.

 Descubrí el escondite. 'I found the hideout.'
 El escondite lo descubrí. 'I found the hideout.' (with el escondite 'the hideout' topicalized to the beginning)

Similarly, in Spanish there's a rule, by all means natural and followed in spoken language, that negative pronouns and adverbs found after a main verb trigger negative agreement in the verb (i.e. the verb must be negated, with no), but if they're found before the verb, then they don't.

 Nunca corro. 'I never run. (~ I'm never in a haste.)'
 No corro nunca. 'I never run.' (with post-verbal nunca triggering no next to the verb corro)

 En nada pienso. 'I'm thinking of nothing.'
 No pienso en nada. 'I'm thinking of nothing.' (with post-verbal nada 'nothing' triggering no next to the verb pienso)

In English, even if the construction itself is a bit old-fashioned now, clause-initial negative words trigger (or used to trigger) the usual switch between do/have/be and the subject, even though no question is implied.

 I didn't do it, and I didn't think it was right either.
 ~ I did not do it, nor did I think it was right.

 I have never seen anger like that.
 ~ Never have I seen such anger.

I don't find it weird that French developed a rule on similar lines for participle agreement in compound tenses. It is unfortunate that this rule still exists now, though, since most French speakers pronounce all forms the same (aimé, aimée, aimés and aimées sound the same for most speakers, especially outside Belgium), and even for those participles that can sound differently (pris vs. prise/prises), many if not most people don't do it naturally anymore anyway.

However, the agreement rule is also found in Old Spanish. Compare the following quotes, taken from the 12th-century Poem of the Cid. Here's a couple lines where the direct object is found after the verb, so there's no agreement in the participle:

 Vençido a esta batalla (line 1008, no agreement; if it did: *vençida (h)a esta batalla)
 'He has won this battle.'

 Dexado ha heredades & casas & palaçios (line 115, no agreement; if it did: *dexadas ha heredades & casas...)
 'He has left [his] inheritance, houses and palaces.'

Meanwhile, if the direct object is found before the verb (below: ha dexado, han tornado), then the participle agrees in gender and number (dexada, tornados):

 Asos castiellos alos moros dentro los an tornados (line 801, cf. modern Spanish a los moros han regresado adentro de sus castillos)
 'They have turned the Muslims back into their castles.'

 vna tienda a dexada (line 582, cf. modern Spanish una tienda ha dejado)
 'He has left one tent behind.'

And again, as Pacifica just said, in Latin, past participles always agree in gender and number, so French and Old Spanish (and to an extent Italian) have simply constricted that agreement to some grammatical contexts. Note that although Portuguese has lost all participle agreement in its ter + participle construction (os castelos têm abandonado), Spanish retains it in all contexts in tener + participle (los castillos tienen abandonados). (Although in Spanish, this construction is less common and less basic/essential than the equivalent in Portuguese.)
 
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Androcles

New Member
All very interesting. As a sociolinguist (primarily), I'm also interested in the human interventions that have led to some forms being preferred over others. Prominent in the case of French is the 16th-century poet Clément Marot, who served as a kind of poet laureate to King Francis. Marot admired Italian and wrote an influential poem extolling the virtues of its agreement rule. An extract (in contemporary French):

Faut dire en paroles parfaites :
Dieu en ce monde les a faites ;
Et ne faut point dire en effet :
Dieu en ce monde les a fait.
Ni nous a fait, pareillement,
Mais nous a faits tout rondement.
L’italien, dont la faconde
Passe les vulgaires du monde,
Son langage a ainsi bâti
En disant : Dio noi a fatti.

It seems that Marot overestimated the consistency with which this rule was applied in Italian, and simply wished to give French some of the lustre of classical antiquity by aligning it with Latin. (Another possibility is that he was influenced by the Occitan language of his birthplace in what is now SW France.) Marot’s preference was codified in the following century by the grammarian Vaugelas, and the rest, as they say, was history. There has been a long-running battle in France between the reformers and the latinizers, les modernes and les anciens, between the proponents of the Prix Goncourt (favouring innovation) and the more sedate literary prizes backed by the Académie Francaise. Educational reformers have long campaigned for the reform of the agreement rule, but the response has always been Touchez pas notre belle langue! The latinizers gained the upper hand in the sixteenth century, and the Académie Française (along with a highly centralised education system) did the rest. Contemporary Italian and Spanish, by contrast, illustrate what happens when 'natural' language change is allowed to take its course.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
For what it's worth, I would have said Touchez pas à notre belle langue.
 

Serenus

legātus armisonus
All very interesting. As a sociolinguist (primarily), I'm also interested in the human interventions that have led to some forms being preferred over others. Prominent in the case of French is the 16th-century poet Clément Marot, who served as a kind of poet laureate to King Francis. Marot admired Italian and wrote an influential poem extolling the virtues of its agreement rule.
Well, that's definitely very interesting if true... I don't know if this agreement with objects before really starts appearing in the 16th/17th centuries in French, but I notice that in 11th/12th century Old French, the past participle can agree with an object no matter where the object is found:

Des plus feluns dis en ad apelez (Song of Roland 69, apelé agrees with object dis before)
'From among the worst men, he has called ten'

Li reis Marsilies ad la culur muée (Song of Roland 441, mué agrees with object in middle of compound verb)
'King Marsile has changed his colour'

Vint i ses niés, out vestue sa brunie (Song of Roland 384, vestu agrees with object after)
'His nephew arrived there, and he had put on his mail-and-plate armour'
 
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Androcles

New Member
For what it's worth, I would have said Touchez pas à notre belle langue.
From collocational evidence you may well be right (I'm not a native speaker). I have found that Scribens is the best grammar-checking site for French, but such are les chinoiseries de la langue française that it insists on Ne touchez pas (à) notre belle langue! I don't know the rule here.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
The version with ne is more complete, but the one without it is quite fine in a colloquial context. As a general rule, ne is in most cases optional in colloquial French.
 
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Androcles

New Member
Well, that's definitely very interesting if true... I don't know if this agreement with objects before really starts appearing in the 16th/17th centuries in French, but I notice that in 11th/12th century Old French, the past participle can agree with an object no matter where the object is found:

Esperuns d'or ad en ses piez fermez (Song of Roland 345, fermé agrees with object esperuns before)
'He puts gold spurs on his shoe soles'

Li reis Marsilies ad la culur muée (Song of Roland 441, mué agrees with object in middle of compound verb)
'King Marsile has changed his colour'

Vint i ses niés, out vestue sa brunie (Song of Roland 384, vestu agrees with object after)
'His nephew arrived there, and he had put on his mail-and-plate armour'
Thanks for these examples. My feeling is that before the 16th century there was considerable variation in the way writers made agreement, partly because the evolution of the tense system made it harder to systematically apply the rules of Latin grammar. Marot's and Vaugelas's normative interventions attempted to 'fix' grammar in this area, but were only partially successful because of the complexity of possible phrase structures. The current controversy over 'simplification' is a recurring debate; in 1900 the French education ministry declared the agreement rule to be 'une cause d’embarras dans l’enseignement’ (an obstacle in education) and recommended reform, but they were also pressured into backing down by the standardisers (and the Académie, of course).
 

Androcles

New Member
By the way, regarding the topic of the thread...

Human languages sometimes do develop rules that are based on whether something is found before or after a certain word. For example, in Spanish and much of Romance, there is a pattern that a definite direct object noun phrase that is topicalized to the front (the beginning of the sentence) is often mentioned again with a direct object pronoun.

 Descubrí el escondite. 'I found the hideout.'
 El escondite lo descubrí. 'I found the hideout.' (with el escondite 'the hideout' topicalized to the beginning)

Similarly, in Spanish there's a rule, by all means natural and followed in spoken language, that negative pronouns and adverbs found after a main verb trigger negative agreement in the verb (i.e. the verb must be negated, with no), but if they're found before the verb, then they don't.

 Nunca corro. 'I never run. (~ I'm never in a haste.)'
 No corro nunca. 'I never run.' (with post-verbal nunca triggering no next to the verb corro)

 En nada pienso. 'I'm thinking of nothing.'
 No pienso en nada. 'I'm thinking of nothing.' (with post-verbal nada 'nothing' triggering no next to the verb pienso)

In English, even if the construction itself is a bit old-fashioned now, clause-initial negative words trigger (or used to trigger) the usual switch between do/have/be and the subject, even though no question is implied.

 I didn't do it, and I didn't think it was right either.
 ~ I did not do it, nor did I think it was right.

 I have never seen anger like that.
 ~ Never have I seen such anger.

I don't find it weird that French developed a rule on similar lines for participle agreement in compound tenses. It is unfortunate that this rule still exists now, though, since most French speakers pronounce all forms the same (aimé, aimée, aimés and aimées sound the same for most speakers, especially outside Belgium), and even for those participles that can sound differently (pris vs. prise/prises), many if not most people don't do it naturally anymore anyway.

However, the agreement rule is also found in Old Spanish. Compare the following quotes, taken from the 12th-century Poem of the Cid. Here's a couple lines where the direct object is found after the verb, so there's no agreement in the participle:

 Vençido a esta batalla (line 1008, no agreement; if it did: *vençida (h)a esta batalla)
 'He has won this battle.'

 Dexado ha heredades & casas & palaçios (line 115, no agreement; if it did: *dexadas ha heredades & casas...)
 'He has left [his] inheritance, houses and palaces.'

Meanwhile, if the direct object is found before the verb (below: ha dexado, han tornado), then the participle agrees in gender and number (dexada, tornados):

 Asos castiellos alos moros dentro los an tornados (line 801, cf. modern Spanish a los moros han regresado adentro de sus castillos)
 'They have turned the Muslims back into their castles.'

 vna tienda a dexada (line 582, cf. modern Spanish una tienda ha dejado)
 'He has left one tent behind.'

And again, as Pacifica just said, in Latin, past participles always agree in gender and number, so French and Old Spanish (and to an extent Italian) have simply constricted that agreement to some grammatical contexts. Note that although Portuguese has lost all participle agreement in its ter + participle construction (os castelos têm abandonado), Spanish retains it in all contexts in tener + participle (los castillos tienen abandonados). (Although in Spanish, this construction is less common and less basic/essential than the equivalent in Portuguese.)
Good point about the 'constriction' of the rule to certain contexts, but the problem with French is that the rule does not easily generalise to every case that it would be expected to cover. For example:

les violonistes que j’ai entendus jouer ('the violinists that I heard play'; entendus agrees with violonistes) BUT
les airs que j’ai entendu jouer ('the tunes/airs that I heard (being) played')

For this reason there have been further normative interventions since the 16th century, such as the 1990 ruling by the Conseil Supérieur de la Langue Française that the past participle of the verb laisser is invariable (i.e. not subject to the agreement rule) when followed by an infinitive. A mess, quite frankly!
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
les violonistes que j’ai entendus jouer ('the violinists that I heard play'; entendus agrees with violonistes) BUT
les airs que j’ai entendu jouer ('the tunes/airs that I heard (being) played')
The difference between those two sentences is that in the first sentence, que, representing les violonistes, is the subject of jouer (les violonistes jouaient les airs), whereas in the second sentence, que, representing les airs, is the direct object of jouer (une ou des personnes non specifiées jouaient les airs).

In fact, in the second sentence, you could say that the object of j'ai entendu is jouer (les airs), rather than que (= les airs), which explains that the participle doesn't agree with the latter. Alternatively, I guess you could also possibly theorize that entendu goes with an implied quelqu'un, but I'd rather lean towards the first explanation, at least as matters now stand. It's more than probable that this type of construction (entendre + infinitive without a subject) developed from an ellipsis of a word like quelqu'un, but that was probably too long ago for it to apply now.
 
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Issacus Divus

H₃rḗǵs h₁n̥dʰéri diwsú

Androcles

New Member
The difference between those two sentences is that in the first sentence, que, representing les violonistes, is the subject of jouer (les violonistes jouaient les airs), whereas in the second sentence, que, representing les airs, is the direct object of jouer (une ou des personnes non specifiées jouaient les airs).

In fact, in the second sentence, you could say that the object of j'ai entendu is jouer (les airs), rather than que (= les airs), which explains that the participle doesn't agree with the latter. Alternatively, I guess you could also possibly theorize that entendu goes with an implied quelqu'un, but I'd rather lean towards the first explanation, at least as matters now stand. It's more than probable that this type of construction (entendre + infinitive without a subject) developed from an ellipsis of a word like quelqu'un, but that was probably too long ago for it to apply now.
Yes, indeed, but imagine trying to explain that as a language teacher. I will let Voltaire have (possibly) the last word on the importation and defence of the rule: Clément Marot a rapporté deux choses d’Italie, la vérole [the pox] et l’accord du participe passé. Je pense que c’est le second qui a fait le plus de ravages.
 

Bitmap

Civis Illustris
Yes, indeed, but imagine trying to explain that as a language teacher.
She gave a rather grammar-focused explanation of what you intuitively did yourself already ...

les violonistes que j’ai entendus jouer ('the violinists that I heard play'; entendus agrees with violonistes) BUT
les airs que j’ai entendu jouer ('the tunes/airs that I heard (being) played')
... by adding being to the 2nd sentence, showing it's not the tunes that do the playing. I suppose most student can comprehend that rather simple semantic explanation.
 
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