Origins of French 'soit....soit'

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Beachxhair, Aug 28, 2013.

  1. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK
    English-England
    Hi
    I've always wondered what the origins of the French conjunction 'soit....soit' (either...or) are, especially since soit is also the 3rd person singular of the subjunctive of être. Did the conjunction soit develop out of the subjunctive verbal form soit, out of one (or several) subjunctive expressions where the relative pronouns preceding the verb came to be dropped for some reason? If so, at what stage in the French language did this start to happen?

    If anyone knows anything about this, thanks for sharing any of your knowledge :)
     
  2. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    In English too you can say "be it.... be it....".
     
  3. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK
    English-England
    True, but in English be is still considered a verb in subjunctive, one of the few fossilized forms. In French, soit is now analysed as a conjunction and/or adverbial in cases like 'soit rouge soit bleu'. I was wondering whether some kind of morphological reduction had taken place in certain types of clauses in an earlier stage of the French language, to produce the adverbial usage of soit meaning either/or.
     
  4. Ёж! Senior Member

    Русский
    But why do you think this use is in any way special, in the first place?
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
  5. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK
    English-England
    I don't think that is special, I'm just interested in the origins of the word soit as a grammatical adverb, rather than as a verb in the subjunctive....It seems to me that some sort of morphological reduction of the verb form soit must have taken place in some contexts, to produce the adverb soit. I wanted to see whether my theory was correct or not.
     
  6. luitzen Senior Member

    Netherlands
    Frisian, Dutch and Low Saxon
    I think there's a similar situation in Dutch. In Dutch we can say "hetzij... hetzij..." and it means exactly the same as "be it... be it...". Het is the same as English it and zij is the subjunctive singular of zijn (to be). In Dutch, the subjunctive does not really exist anymore, only in what we would call a "fossilized expression". The subjunctive can no longer be used in daily language to create new expression, however, the expressions involving a subjunctive are allowed to stay around. I.e. until people forget the expression, or people forget it's a subjunctive, or the meaning slightly changes, or a combination of these things, leading to wholly new words which are no longer recognized as a combination involving a subjunctive, but as, for example, a conjunction (which is rather ironic btw).

    Other fossilized expressions in Dutch which nobody recognizes as a subjunctive:
    - godverdomme
    - dankzij
    - Reed dan ook niet zo hard! (People will often think reed is a past imperative -ikr?!-, but it's the simple past in the subjunctive mood.)
    - Leve de koning en de koningin. (People usually wouldn't know that it should be Leven)
    - en wat dies meer zij (Since it more or less means the same, most people will think it's just a fancy way of saying etc.)
     
  7. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK
    English-England
     
  8. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK
    English-England
    I'm still interested in exactly how the French soit adverb developed though...:confused:
     
  9. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    The question is whether this analysis is correct. I would maintain that - at least historically - it is not.
     
  10. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK
    English-England
    I can't say whether this analysis is correct or not, but according to the Collins dictionary, the use of soit....soit to mean either...or is a conjunction, in contemporary French. http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/french-english/soit


    If this analysis is incorrect historically (or would you say....still incorrect with regard to modern French?), it'd be interesting to know why, and it'd shed some light on my question about the origins of soit...soit.
     
  11. luitzen Senior Member

    Netherlands
    Frisian, Dutch and Low Saxon
    I don't understand what's wrong with my example of hetzij in Dutch if we're pondering the possibility soit might be derived from the French subjunctive. English has be it which clearly still is in the 3rd person subjunctive and Dutch has hetzij which is considered to be a conjunction by many people and derived from the third 3rd person subjunctive.

    So we have three examples, one language uses the third person subjunctive for a certain meaning and another language uses a word derived from the third person subjunctive for the same meaning while a third language uses a word which looks like the third person subjunctive, which is considered to be a conjunction, but without the pronoun. Maybe I misunderstood the thread, but to me it looks like the third person subjunctive certainly tends to pick up that meaning.
     
  12. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
  13. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK
    English-England
  14. Barsac Senior Member

    region of Bordeaux
    french - français
    Latin verb esse (to be), third person subjunctive : sit [sim, sis, sit, etc...]
     
  15. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Although, as far as I can see, “sit …. sit ….” is never actually used to mean “either …. or .… “
     
  16. bibax Senior Member

    Czech
    Either/or in Latin: vel ... vel ...

    vel bello vel paci = either (be it) for war or for peace;

    vel is fossilized imperative of the verb velle = to wish, to want;

    BTW in Czech we can use: buď ... buď ...
    buď is 3rd pers. sing. imperative of the verb to be (Czech has no subjunctive/conjunctive).
     
  17. olaszinho Senior Member

    Italy
    Central Italian
    Italian has the same conjuction as French: sia.... sia...( either ... or). As in French, it comes from the third person singular subjunctive.
     
  18. Barsac Senior Member

    region of Bordeaux
    french - français
    'soit rouge soit bleu' = 'qu'il soit rouge ou qu'il soit bleu'.
     
  19. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US
    US English
    A tangential remark if I may:
    Productive use of what is usually called the subjunctive is still quite common in the US. Not everyone uses it, and alternative wordings are available, but sentences like the following are commonly heard in the US:
    "Bob insists that she attend every meeting."
    "Mary suggested that he be more flexible about attendance."
    "It's essential that the US stop trying to ..." (note that "US" is singular).
    (I heard a populist politician say the latter sentence, illustrating the fact that such constructions are not limited to academic discourse.)

    That's probably also true of those that use it. Most people are unaware of most of what they do syntactically.
     
  20. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Beachhair. I don't think it's peculiar as it exists in other romance languages too... sia, sea, seja... and is used in similar ways. I don't believe that when people say soit...soit they totally disassociate it from being a subjunctive verb form. In books they translate it as either... or into English, but it might be better translated as be it or whether it be.
    Soit rouge soit noir... be it red or black, whether it be red or black
     
  21. Beachxhair

    Beachxhair Senior Member

    Manchester UK
    English-England
    :tick: I think that be it...whether it be better captures the meaning.
     

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