When in history did it become impossible for 'qui' to mean “quelle chose”?

Brett Reynolds

New Member
English
In Modern French, interrogative qui can only mean "quelle personne". It cannot mean "quelle chose". But in the past, it could mean either one. I'd like to know when this specialization was complete. In what year, roughly, did it become impossible for qui to mean "quelle chose"?

Please, note that the question is specifically about interrogative qui, not relative qui.
 
  • olivier68

    Senior Member
    French Paris France
    Hi Brett,
    In his famous book "Le bon usage", Grevisse provides examples from Rabelais (16th century) to... Colette, Camus and Ionesco (mid-XXth century) who seem to use it as such to avoid the more colloquial "qu'est-ce qui". But in almost all cases the question is immediately followed or answered by a clause that avoids the ambiguity. So, I wouldn't say that it is fully impossible in contemporary French, but rather that it is not that common. Consider:
    "Qui, de la Terre ou du Soleil, tourne autour de l'autre ?" To me, it's perfectly correct.
     

    Reynald

    Senior Member
    français - France
    This article might interest you. It is about inanimate interrogatives in Louisiana French, but a part of the article traces the history of this evolution and gives many examples.
    2 inanimate QUI in classical french and in french dialects
    The inanimate qui pattern is not a New World invention. It has a long history going back into medieval French and to dialect usage of the colonial period. Attested from around the year 1200, inanimate qui was the usual inanimate interrogative subject pronoun by the fifteenth century and remained common into at least the seventeenth century...
    .
     

    olivier68

    Senior Member
    French Paris France
    It is complex question. To me, the "opposition" is not between "human / not human", it refers to [in French] "animé / inanimé".
    If you pick in a set, "qui de" can be applied instead of "lequel/laquelle/lesquelles" :
    ---> "Lors du déménagement, qui du four ou de la bibliothèque partira en premier ?"
     

    Brett Reynolds

    New Member
    English
    It is complex question. To me, the "opposition" is not between "human / not human", it refers to [in French] "animé / inanimé".
    If you pick in a set, "qui de" can be applied instead of "lequel/laquelle/lesquelles" :
    ---> "Lors du déménagement, qui du four ou de la bibliothèque partira en premier ?"
    I mean persons in the philosophical sense, rather than humans specifically. A god, ghost, alien, robot, or animal (such as a pet) can be treated as persons, while certain humans may be regarded as non-persons. I'm skeptical about the split being animate/inanimate.

    I'm not sure I'm interpreting your example correctly, (in particular, is bibliothèque a library or a book store?), but this seems to be personifying the options. Of course, I could be completely incorrect.
     

    olivier68

    Senior Member
    French Paris France
    Sorry, Brett. "bibliothèque" was not the most appropriate example as in French it also simply means the furniture/movable where one puts his books.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    It is complex question. To me, the "opposition" is not between "human / not human", it refers to [in French] "animé / inanimé".
    If you pick in a set, "qui de" can be applied instead of "lequel/laquelle/lesquelles" :
    ---> "Lors du déménagement, qui du four ou de la bibliothèque partira en premier ?"
    Would it perhaps be more appropriate to distinguish between agent and patient than between animé and inanimé? After all, grammatically qui is simply the nominative and que the oblique (originally accusative) form of the pronoun as preserved in the relative pronoun:
    C’est le lapin, qui mange les carottes. (qui = subject = agent)
    C’est le lapin, que je mange. (que = object = patient)
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I do think it is a bit more complex ;-)
    Oh, everything is more complex if you look at the details. We are trying to understand the subtleties of the modern semantic distinction as well as its origin and development. My point is that the modern semantic distinction has developed out of the original grammatical distinctions and for this it may be useful to look at the semantics behind the nominative and accusative cases, which in French continued to existed for much longer than in other Romance languages.

    Shifting the semantic distinction from animate-inanimate to the often closely related but not identical semantic distinction of agent-patient may help to understand cases like these better:
    "Qui, de la Terre ou du Soleil, tourne autour de l'autre ?"
    "Lors du déménagement, qui du four ou de la bibliothèque partira en premier ?"
     
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    Reynald

    Senior Member
    français - France
    Olivier, I find your example a little strange. Que seems much more natural to me. Wouldn't everyone say Lors du déménagement, qu'est-ce qui du four ou de la bibliothèque partira en premier ?
     
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