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352                The Loom of Language
flexional suivivals of the written language, is often nothing more than a
convention of the printed or written page Unless the next word begins
with a vowel—or a mute H (p 258)—the plural -S is a dead letter
When it does precede a word beginning with a vowel, it sounds like z.
Otherwise fiexional distinction between singular and plural in spoken
French is usually guaranteed only by the presence of the definite article
le (masc sing), la (fern sing ), or les (plur), and the French use their
definite article far more than we use our own In fact, it has become a
sort of'number-prefix.
A small group of French nouns has not yet been brought into line with
the prevailing pattern The singular endings -ail or -al change to -aux in
the plural, e g ematl-emaux, hopital-hdpitaux Apart from these, there are
a few vestiges of audible number-distinction The French word for the
eye, Fceil> has the irregular plural Les yeux The ox, le bceuf and the egg,
Pceuf) lose their final -/in the spoken plural—les bceufs (pronounced bo),
les asufs (pronounced o) You will not be speaking the French of the
test-book if you forget these irregularities and pronounce the plural of
ceufs and bosufs like the singular, or say les ceils for les yeux, but you will
be understood You are merely doing what millions of modest French-
men themselves do All that needs to be added is that nouns with the
singular endings -au, -eau> -eu and -oie take -# instead of -s in the plural
(e g cheveux, hair, eaux> waters, genoux> knees) This again is a paper
distinction The x is silent before a consonant, and pronounced as if it
were z when the next word begins with a vowel
To replace a French, Portuguese, Spanish, or Italian noun by the
right pronoun, and to choose the right form of the adjective or the
article to accompany it, we need to know the gender class to which
it belongs Any noun of a modern Romance language falls into one
of two gender classes, masculine and feminine. Sometimes its mean-
ing helps us to identify the gender class of a Romance noun Three
rules apply to the group as a whole (a) male human beings and male
domestic fl.nimfl.1g are masculine, female human beings and female
domestic animals feminine; (b) names of days, months, and compass
beanngs are masculine; (c) most metals and trees are masculine, most
fruits feminine The reader can turn to the exhibits of Part IV to test
these rules and to note exceptions.
Usually, we have to rely as best we can on the ending, as already
illustrated by reference to Italian nouns Two clues have turned up in
what has gone before.
(a) Descendants of Latin masculines and neuters with the nominative
singular endings -US and -UM are nearly always masculine In
Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, the corresponding terminal is -O