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En réponse à John Cowan <[log in to unmask]>:

>
> > In French it's nearly the
> > same, except that the article is replaced by the demonstrative 'ce',
> which per
> > se doesn't really demonstrate much ;)))
>
> As I have been saying, "ce" has moved into the definite article slot,
> replacing
> "le" which has become the semantically null article.
>

I disagree on that. "le" is still far from semantically null. If you consider
it that way because it's used with generalities and abstractions, where English
and other languages use no article at all, then you're wrong about the
semantics of generalities in French. After all, if you think about it
carefully, what's more definite than a generality? It's defined by its very
enunciation! When you talk about the abstraction "peace", you are talking about
something which is well known beforehand, something which is everything but
indefinite. The semantics may be vague, but not the definition. So in that
sense generalities and abstractions are pretty well definite by themselves, and
thus are marked in French with the definite article, since definition needs to
be always overly marked, hence "la paix". "Le" stays a definite article, with
just more use than English "the" since English doesn't need to mark for
definition things that are already defined by their very enunciation.

"Ce", on the other hand, is still too strong to be considered a definite
article. More than marking definition, it's a strong anaphoric (rarely
cataphoric), a bit like is, ea, id in (Classical) Latin. In fact, I'll agree
that "ce" can be considered an article working on the scale of definition, but
I disagree that it's just a definite article and that "le" has lost meaning.
Rather, I'd argue that French doesn't have two but three levels of definition:
indefinite, definite and restrictive, since "le" is used to mark something that
has been defined somehow, while "ce" is used to point out one among comparable
things that have been defined earlier (and thus still has some demonstrative
meaning). It can also be used where just the definite article would be enough,
but then it has an emphatic meaning, or it is used after a digression to put
back the topic on what was discussed before the digression. All those uses are
much too strong to consider "ce" only as a definite article (indeed, in English
demonstratives are used for most of them).

And note that all I've been saying is about Spoken French, like I speak it and
have heard it spoken by everyone I know, whether of my age or not. Maybe "ce"
is on the road to become a simple definite article, and "le" on the road of
becoming a "null" article, but they aren't quite there yet. If it's so, I'd say
two generations at least will be needed to change it (since even the French
children I've heard use "ce" and "le" as I described - in fact, I often
hear "le" used nearly as a demonstrative by children -).

Christophe.

http://rainbow.conlang.free.fr

Take your life as a movie: do not let anybody else play the leading role.