What is the origin of the French expression "nous autres"

bloomhaven

Member
English - Canada
I am an Anglo Canadian, but lived in Quebec for a while some years ago. I have long been fascinated with the expressions "nous autres", "vous autres", and "eux autres" that are used in Quebec, and I believe also in Louisiana. Does anyone know the origin of these expressions? I have often wondered if they have any relation to the Spanish words "nosotros" and "vosotros".
 
  • CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    Yes, they are indeed related to those Spanish words, as both come from Latin nos altres, vos altres, and illi altres.
    The individual words come from Latin, of course, but not the expressions. The pronoun alter was rarely used in the plural in Latin (and the correct form was alteri/alteros, not altres ;)).

    The development of Spanish nosotros/vosotros is relatively recent (14th/15th century).

    Nous autres and vous autres are also found in French in the same period, and they are still used in modern standard French, but always with contrastive force ("exclusive we" vs. "the rest of you"). In Quebec French these expanded forms have mostly lost this function and they are used as emphatic pronouns (in the same way that the emphatic form of je/me is moi). The third person form eux autres developed by analogy with the other two forms (and this Wikipedia article sort of explains why elles autres does not exist).
     

    jmx

    Senior Member
    Spain / Spanish
    The individual words come from Latin, of course, but not the expressions. The pronoun alter was rarely used in the plural in Latin (and the correct form was alteri/alteros, not altres ;)).

    The development of Spanish nosotros/vosotros is relatively recent (14th/15th century).
    The words nosotros/vosotros probably appeared in the 14th/15th century in the written language. They might have been around for several centuries in the spoken language.

    I think the correspondence between these words seems too much of a coincidence:

    - Spanish nosotros / vosotros
    - Catalan nosaltres / vosaltres
    - French nous autres / vous autres
    - Italian noialtri / voialtri
     

    Hamlet2508

    Senior Member
    English
    The individual words come from Latin, of course, but not the expressions. The pronoun alter was rarely used in the plural in Latin (and the correct form was alteri/alteros, not altres ;)).
    Which is not quite true I'm afraid.
    regards,
    Hamlet
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Hi,

    Which is not quite true I'm afraid.
    regards
    To be afraid or not to be afraid, Hamlet, that's not the question.

    The question is: can you please explain us why you don't think it's true, can you give some background information, can you elaborate? We're here to learn, but you're reply doesn't give any food for thought.

    I mean, I would love to learn more about the reasons why you say it's not true!

    Thanks!

    Frank
     
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    Hamlet2508

    Senior Member
    English
    The question is: can you please explain us why you don't think it's true, can you give some background information, can you elaborate? We're here to learn, but you're reply doesn't give any food for thought.

    I mean, I would love to learn more about the reasons why you say it's not true!
    I didn't realize you wanted textual evidence.
    Well,there are a few works listed below[I am sorry but I'm a bit rushed at the moment] where the plural is quite frequently used:

    M. Fabii Quintiliani Institutio Oratoria
    Marci Tullii Ciceronis Orator ad M. Brutum
    Marci Tullii Ciceronis De Oratore ad Quintum Fratrem
    L. Iunii Moderati Columellae De Re Rustica.

    Regards,
    Hamlet
     
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    Hamlet2508

    Senior Member
    English
    I merely wanted to point out that that the suggestion of "alteri" being rarely used in the plural is not quite true,because there is evidence both in classical Latin prose as well as Latin poetry of this period.

    If you wanted more convincing arguments than examples of usage in Cicero Suetonius Quintilian you would have to go to the Head of the Classics Department, who will most certainly make time for your request,if adequately phrased.
     
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    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I merely wanted to point out that that the suggestion of "alteri" being rarely used in the plural is not quite true,because there is evidence both in classical Latin prose as well as Latin poetry of this period.
    I have tried to follow the discussion and now it is partly clear to me; you might have told us in the first place that you refer to "alter" and only "alter" (and its use in plural) as described by CapnPrp in the post above which was posted by him as a sidenote only, and about which you've written that it is not correct, that the use of 'alter' in plural were not rare indeed. (And that you didn't refer to "nous autres" in particular. :))

    Now it might well be true that the plural of "alter" was widely used (this is far beyond my knowledge of Latin so I couldn't possibly comment) but I still would be interested in the original question referring to French (and other Romance) expressions like "nous autres" (even though I haven't yet posted here I'm still reading ;) but even though I'm interested in the outcome sadly I can't contribute to the original question).

    Is there any significance as to if Latin 'alter' had been used frequently in plural, or not so frequently, concerning the development of this phrase (of nosotros, nous autres, nosaltres, ...)? If so I have to say that I personally can't see the relation.
    (In the linked text of Horace, Odes IV 'alter' is used three times; now I have to admit that my Latin has become really rusty so please correct me if I am wrong but I can't identify a single use of it in connection with a personal pronoun. - And the second link, unfortunately, is invalid or probably links to a protected site or whatever.)
     

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    I actually did mean and write "rarely used", which is not the same thing as "never used"… :)

    I think that there are probably examples of plural pronoun + alteri already in Classical Latin, but as a free combination with contrastive meaning. This usage is still found in many modern Romance languages (e.g. standard French). But as I understood it, the question of the original poster — who has apparently moved on to greener pastures — was about languages where the expression "pronoun + autres/otros" has undergone grammaticalization (losing its contrastive meaning) and supplanted the simple pronoun.

    For Spanish, this specific development has been dated to the 14th/15th centuries, and I don't think there would be "several centuries" of lag between spoken and written language for such a change in this period, which is well documented by texts of many different genres.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I think that there are probably examples of plural pronoun + alteri already in Classical Latin, but as a free combination with contrastive meaning. (...) But as I understood it, the question of the original poster (...) has undergone grammaticalization (losing its contrastive meaning) and supplanted the simple pronoun.
    This is also how I see it, but if there had been already uses of pronoun + alteri in (Classical) Latin this would be a starting point (use of alteri without pronoun aren't of much help I'd guess).

    But probably the answer anyway would lie in Vulgar Latin rather than Classical Latin: that is, if a common ancestry of those forms in several Romance languages were to be found.
    As I can only guess I'll stop here now, and go back to reading only ...
     

    wonderment

    Senior Member
    English
    I am an Anglo Canadian, but lived in Quebec for a while some years ago. I have long been fascinated with the expressions "nous autres", "vous autres", and "eux autres" that are used in Quebec, and I believe also in Louisiana. Does anyone know the origin of these expressions? I have often wondered if they have any relation to the Spanish words "nosotros" and "vosotros".
    I think that there are probably examples of plural pronoun + alteri already in Classical Latin, but as a free combination with contrastive meaning. This usage is still found in many modern Romance languages (e.g. standard French). But as I understood it, the question of the original poster — who has apparently moved on to greener pastures — was about languages where the expression "pronoun + autres/otros" has undergone grammaticalization (losing its contrastive meaning) and supplanted the simple pronoun.

    For Spanish, this specific development has been dated to the 14th/15th centuries, and I don't think there would be "several centuries" of lag between spoken and written language for such a change in this period, which is well documented by texts of many different genres.
    This is also how I see it, but if there had been already uses of pronoun + alteri in (Classical) Latin this would be a starting point (use of alteri without pronoun aren't of much help I'd guess).

    But probably the answer anyway would lie in Vulgar Latin rather than Classical Latin: that is, if a common ancestry of those forms in several Romance languages were to be found.
    In classical Latin, the primary meaning of alter (most relevant to this discussion is the entry at I.2.g) is “the other of two, one of two, the other” (from which we get “alternative”). Alius also means “other”, but in the particular sense of “another, different” (as in “alias”, another identity). In medieval Latin, alius gradually disappeared and alter came to assume its meaning. So it is from alter that we get Spanish otro and French autre.

    In classical Latin, alter can be used “to mark the similarity of one object to another in qualities, etc., a second, another (as in English, a second father [alter pater], my second self [alter ego], and the like).”

    The only use of alter + pronoun that I’m familiar with is alter ego (‘another I’) to refer to a close friend or kindred spirit. We have from Cicero (Fam. 7, 5): vide quam mihi persuaserim te me esse alterum (‘See how I have convinced myself that you are another me (i.e. my other self)'). And famously (Lael. 21, 82): amicus est tamquam alter idem ('A friend is one’s other self.’ Or more literally, ‘A friend is like another the same’).

    To my knowledge, Latin did not make the “exclusivity” distinction in the use of pronouns. (In verb conjugation, 3rd 1st person plural was sometimes used for 1st person singular, but that’s more like an “inclusive” I.) I suspect that nous autres (“exclusive we”) developed from this sense of alter. So nous autres would designate “I and others like me” (but not you, the addressee). The switch to the plural form should be obvious for semantic reason. The same argument could be extended to vous autres and eux autres.

    Sorry I haven't any idea when or how "pronoun + autres/otros" underwent grammaticalization, or how noialtri came to be used as an emphatic pronoun. :)

    -----------
    Edit add: I just realized that noialtri is the exact equivalent of nous autres; it's a "contrastive" emphatic pronoun. As for the grammaticalization of nosotros, it loses the contrastive meaning but gains the grammatical distinction between subject (nosotros) and object pronoun (nos). Nosotros remains an emphatic pronoun of sort since the subject pronoun is not necessary as it's already built into the conjugation.
     
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    jmx

    Senior Member
    Spain / Spanish
    As for the grammaticalization of nosotros, it loses the contrastive meaning but gains the grammatical distinction between subject (nosotros) and object pronoun (nos). Nosotros remains an emphatic pronoun of sort since the subject pronoun is not necessary as it's already built into the conjugation.
    Just to make things precise, nosotros is not only the subject pronoun, but also the stressed object pronoun (used with a preposition), corresponding to the unstressed object pronoun nos (used with no preposition). For example in these sentences:
    Viene con nosotros.
    Lo hizo para nosotros.
     

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    I suspect that nous autres (“exclusive we”) developed from this sense of alter. So nous autres would designate “I and others like me” (but not you, the addressee). The switch to the plural form should be obvious for semantic reason. The same argument could be extended to vous autres and eux autres.
    The argument only really works for the first person (exclusive "we"); with vous and eux, autres is simply a plural marker, with no additional notion of exclusion. But just as alter was commonly used in correlative structures in Latin ("the one… the other…", "the former… the latter…"), it would be natural to use vous/eux autres in combination with nous autres.

    The need to mark plurality was apparently enough to cause vosotros to replace vos in (most varieties of) Spanish. The pronoun vos was originally plural but it ended up having singular reference in many contexts (e.g. polite plural). So vosotros became the normal 2nd person plural disjunctive pronoun (in subject position, after a preposition, and in emphatic use), and nosotros subsequently replaced nos by analogy.

    The same development is conceivable for Quebec French (with a further analogical step for eux autres) but I have not seen this documented anywhere.
     

    virgilio42

    New Member
    Germa/Italian bilingual
    Hi,
    I was wondering myself about the origin of noialtri/nosotros/nous autres and found a very interesting and convincing explanation provided by Petrarca, the Italian poet, in an essay by Tiziana Piras ("Petrarca nello Zibaldone di Leopardi"). According to Petrarca, the pronouns derive from Latin "nos ceteri", which was used in spoken language to distinguish the "nos" used as a plural from the "nos" used as a singular, i.e. instead of "ego".
     

    bo-marco

    Senior Member
    Italiano Italia - Emiliano Mirandola
    The words nosotros/vosotros probably appeared in the 14th/15th century in the written language. They might have been around for several centuries in the spoken language.

    I think the correspondence between these words seems too much of a coincidence:

    - Spanish nosotros / vosotros
    - Catalan nosaltres / vosaltres
    - French nous autres / vous autres
    - Italian noialtri / voialtri
    It's the same in EMILIANO
    http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialetto_modenese
    - nosotros=nosaltres=nous autres=Nuèter
    - vosotros=vosaltres=vous autres=Vuèter
     

    Peano

    Senior Member
    Spanish, Catalan
    If the French expression ne pas was developed as an emphatic version of ne, I guess nous autres might alike be developed as an emphatic version of nous.
     

    terredepomme

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Romance languages originally being a dialect continuum, there are many expressions found in some French dialects that are also found in other Romance languages. For example À cette heure= quest'ora (Italian)
     

    cheriedd

    Member
    Sinhala & English - Sri Lanka
    Hi All,

    So does Nous-autres/vous-autres/eux-autres means we all/ you all/ they all or simply we/you/they? I came across this in a document and just wanted to know what is the correct English equivalent. Could you please help?
    Thank you...
     
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