The Future’s Path in Three Acadian French Varieties

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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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Comeau, Philip
King, Ruth
LeBlanc, Carmen L

In the present study, we investigate the expression of future temporal reference in three closely-related varieties of Atlantic Canada Acadian French, varieties which differ substantially in their sociolinguistic histories. The three communities (Baie Sainte-Marie, Nova Scotia; L’Anse-à-Canards, Newfoundland; and the Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec) have experienced varying types and degrees of dialect contact since their original settlement. At one end of the continuum, Baie Sainte-Marie had the most homogeneous settlement pattern and has been largely isolated from other French varieties, including other Acadian varieties, for several centuries. The Iles de la Madeleine is at the other extreme, involving the most heterogeneous mix of original settlers and a subsequent history which is defined by waves of dialect contact. In an intermediary position, L’Anse-à-Canard's settlement history is less heterogeneous than that of the Iles de la Madeleine but did involve late 19th century dialect contact with European French. The study is based on linguistic data for speakers born between 1873 and 1925, which constitute some of the earliest audio recordings for the varieties, along with sociohistorical data drawn from nominal censuses, cadastral maps, family genealogies, etc. Our goal is to determine the extent to which the grammaticalization path of the periphrastic future (which would ultimately overtake the inflected future as the majority variant in other spoken varieties) would be mirrored in the three communities. The results of multivariate analyses show, for Baie Sainte-Marie, the earliest stage in the evolution of the periphrastic future: it is still associated with imminent contexts. For L’Anse-à-Canards, we see the strong association of the variant with proximal contexts more generally. For these two communities, then, the use of the periphrastic future has not spread to distal contexts. Finally, for The Iles de la Madeleine, we find some weakening of the temporal distance effect and the emergence of a polarity constraint not attested for the other Acadian communities: negative utterances are associated with the inflected future, a finding resembling that found in variationist research on varieties of Laurentian French, wherein the periphrastic future has become the general marker of futurity. We explain the acquisition of the polarity constraint in terms of contact with speakers of Laurentian varieties. In sum, the historical trajectory of the future variable is reflected in intercommunity variation for the earliest linguistic attestations for spoken Acadian French.

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