French: Developments of <oi>

Flaminius

coclea mod
日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
Hello forum,

As I was reading a letter written in late 18th century, I came across a lot of strange cases of <oi>. The letter is quoted as Note 31 to Memoirs of My Life by Edward Gibbon (in this electronic version, the note is incorporated in the text body).

Looking at a passage like below, I see that some instances of <oi> would be spelt <ai> in the modern orthography.
L'Abbé (...) bien persuadé que le savant Anglois l'approuveroit (...)

I am wondering if this is not an idiosyncracy of the write, and, if it isn't, what it is. For reference, some word where <oi> may be expected are actually with <ai> (populaire and not *populoire).

If this is due to and old spelling or conjugation pattern, I'd appreciate input as to when it was reformed.

Thank you very much.
 
  • franc 91

    Senior Member
    English - GB
    This is an old form of spelling that reflected the way the language was pronounced at the time - anglois for anglais, roi was pronounced roué, moi - moué and so on - I believe that in Québécois it is still the case.
     

    Natalie Mondor

    New Member
    USA
    English-US
    This form was used in France well into the 18th century, both in spoken and written French. The entries in the Encyclopedie compiled by Diderot and d'Alembert use this and many other spellings that have changed. The case of the spoken "oi" is interesting because it reflected the pronunciation of the court. The "ai" was a variation spoken by the people of Paris.After the Revolution, people wanted to blend in with the people and not be indentified with the nobility for obvious reasons.
    There are many books youmight enjoy written about the history of the French language; some even in English.
     

    Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Thanks, both of you.

    Let me summarise what I understood. Until around the Revolution, there was a diphthong /ue/ (written <oi>). The first /u/ was dropped, to produce /e/, in some phonetic environments and the now-single vowel was merged with <ai> in spelling. In other environments, it became /wa/ and the spelling remained intact.

    So then, what were the defining conditions that separated <oi> into two equivalents in the next generation of the French language?

    Another question. The whole discussion suggests many changes have contributed the formation of words like roi, king. It definately originates from the Latin rex but I cannot imagine what middles forms it assumed till the present form in French. Would anyone be able to help me on this?
     

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    So then, what were the defining conditions that separated <oi> into two equivalents in the next generation of the French language?
    The split into [ɛ] and [wa] was quite haphazard, and as far as I know not phonologically conditioned. The biggest mess is in the nationalities: we've already seen anglais (français, japonais, …) vs. québécois (danois, chinois, …) in this thread. But apart from the imperfect/conditional verb endings, I would say that most instances of ‹oi› remained ‹oi› and are now pronounced [wa].

    The whole discussion suggests many changes have contributed the formation of words like roi, king. It definately originates from the Latin rex but I cannot imagine what middles forms it assumed till the present form in French. Would anyone be able to help me on this?
    In most cases the diphthong ‹oi› traces back to an original ē or ĭ. So for example:
    rēge(m) > rei > roi > rwɛ > rwa​

    This explains why you won't find *populoire: this suffix developed from -āris.
     

    Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    The split into [ɛ] and [wa] was quite haphazard, and as far as I know not phonologically conditioned.
    Oh, well... Anyway, thanks for a more accurate phonetic indication.

    In most cases the diphthong ‹oi› traces back to an original ē or ĭ. So for example:
    rēge(m) > rei > roi > rwɛ > rwa​
    This explains why you won't find *populoire: this suffix developed from -āris.
    Yes, yes, ē and ĭ were already confused in the 3rd century Latin. I see rei is very similar to the Spanish rey. And was ‹roi› really pronounced /roi/?
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    In most cases the diphthong ‹oi› traces back to an original ē or ĭ. So for example:
    rēge(m) > rei > roi > rwɛ > rwa​
    It looks like there may have been a stress shift as well:

    ey > oy > oï (in hiatus) > ouè > wa
     
    Last edited:

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    It looks like there may have been a stress shift as well
    This implies that at some point the vowel split into two syllables, but I don't believe that there is evidence for that. I suppose that a falling diphthong can turn into a rising diphthong without necessarily passing through a stage with two vowels in hiatus.
     

    Angelo di fuoco

    Senior Member
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    The split into [ɛ] and [wa] was quite haphazard, and as far as I know not phonologically conditioned. The biggest mess is in the nationalities: we've already seen anglais (français, japonais, …) vs. québécois (danois, chinois, …) in this thread. But apart from the imperfect/conditional verb endings, I would say that most instances of ‹oi› remained ‹oi› and are now pronounced [wa].
    Victor Hugo wrote in "Les misérables" something about a person (noble one, I think - don't remember it all too well) who sai polonois and hongrais.
     

    Mishe

    Senior Member
    Slovenian
    Interesting, the French of l'ancien regime was quite different in pronunciation, for example even ll (as in Marseille) was pronounced differently (closer to today's pronunciation of Spanish double l). It's one of the few instances when a historical event, that is the French revolution changed the way many words were pronounced for the reasons that were already mentioned before. > many of these old pronunciations are, however, preserved in contemporary Canadian French.
     

    Aoyama

    Senior Member
    français Clodoaldien
    This is an old form of spelling that reflected the way the language was pronounced at the time - anglois for anglais, roi was pronounced roué, moi - moué and so on - I believe that in Québécois it is still the case.
    very true, you find obvious proof of this in 17th century drama and poetry, where rhymes or rythm do not work if you use modern pronunciation.
    "Roi sans gloire"/ roué sans glouére etc.
    You still find trace of this in many examples :
    - names like Langlois (for l'Anglais)
    - raide/roide but roideur (but baring in mind that "oi" was pronounced "ouais")
    - even "oui" pronounced colloquially "ouais"
    probably the best example is found with François and Français, both being originally the same word. A phrase like "François roi des Français" was pronounced "Frinçouais rouais des Frinçouais", undeniably giving a different ring to it ...
    But if you think of it you very well know that you find a similar pronounciation shift in Japanese as well :
    words ending in "ai" (a-i) like takai,katai,yabai can be pronounced colloquially as take, kate, yabe
    some words ending in "oi" (o-i) will be pronounced "e".
     
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    seitt

    Senior Member
    English/Welsh
    Greetings

    Apologies if I haven't got the right term, but I would think that the works of Mme Guyon count as français classique rather than moyen français (Middle French) – please correct me if I'm wrong.

    Anyway, as those who have kindly answered my threads have seen, the imperfect endings –ais/-ait are always written –ois/-oit. Furthermore, I can't help but be reminded of the English loanword ‘connoisseur’, presumably borrowed into English from French before oi was replaced by ai in this case too.

    How would this oi have been pronounced? As in Old French, when, as Kibler says, it was pronounced like oy in the English word boy? Then again, in Kibler’s Old French (p. 31) we read:
    oi was pronounced in twelfth century Francien as in the English boy and then by the turn of the thirteenth century as in the English sway
    Francien was the dialect of Old French spoken around Paris, I believe.

    Best wishes, and many thanks,

    Simon
     

    Kecha

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Ancien français : 9th to 14th century
    Moyen français : up to somewhere in the 17th century (1611 is often given although no event supports giving such a clear cut date)
    français classique : up to 18th century

    Mme Guyon being born in 1648 (died 1717), she was probably right in the middle of the transition from moyen to classique.

    It's actually hard to know for sure of prononciation except by looking at how poets had word riming. But then poets sometimes use old fashioned words or usage so it's not even a fool proof source.

    A famous example is how Molière had "grammaire" and "grand-mère" being confused in La Bourgeois Gentilhomme, giving a hint that they were pronounced similarly then (while they are pronounced differently now). (Molière dates being 1622-1673 so roughly the same period as Mme Guyon).

    It is generally admitted that -oi was probably pronounced ... -wé.
    But most people reading it these days would be tempted to pronounced it -wa.
     

    chatkigazouille

    Senior Member
    Indonesian
    Cui cui tout le monde :D

    J'aimerais savoir comment se prononcent les suffixes -ois/-oi chez le français du 19e siècle.

    Voici un extrait de "Préparation à la mort" de St Alphonse-Marie de Liguori de 1823 (traduit de l'italien), page 71
    "O mon divin Rédempteur, je n'oserai partre devant Vous si je ne Vous voyois attaché à la croix, honni, couvert de plaies et mort pour moi..."

    Cela se prononce comme aujourd'hui (wa) Ou plutôt ? Je trouve que celle-ci parait assez bizarre surtout avec voyois - "vwajwè" ?

    Bon merci d'avance
     

    pointvirgule

    Senior Member
    langue française
    Au début du XIXe, le oi de paroître et de voyois se prononçait [ɛ] depuis au moins un siècle, mais la graphie oi persistait toujours. En 1835, une réforme de l'orthographe consacra enfin la graphie ai.
    Ainsi [l'Académie française] adopta-t-elle en 1835, dans la sixième édition de son Dictionnaire, l’orthographe -ais pour les mots terminés jusqu’alors en -ois mais prononcés depuis longtemps è (le françois, j’étois, etc.), réforme réclamée au siècle précédent par Voltaire. (Source : Académie française)
    Quant à croix et moi, j'imagine qu'il y avait belle lurette qu'ils se prononçaient [wa].
     
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