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The Gascon Énonciatif System: Past, Present, and Future. A study of language contact, change, endangerment, and maintenance


The énonciatif system is a defining linguistic feature of Gascon, an endangered Romance language spoken primarily in southwestern France, separating it not only from its neighboring Occitan languages, but from the entire Romance language family. This study examines this preverbal particle system from a diachronic and synchronic perspective to shed light on issues of language contact, change, endangerment, and maintenance.

The diachronic source of this system has important implications regarding its current and future status. My research indicates that this system is an ancient feature of the language, deriving from contact between the original inhabitants of Gascony, who spoke Basque or an ancestral form of the language, and the Romans who conquered the region in 56 B.C. Since this system initially arose via language contact and Gascon is a minority language threatened by French, can language contact also be the same mechanism to cause its demise? To answer this question, I conducted fieldwork in the Gascon region during 2008-2009 to examine how this system is currently used and taught.

My findings reflect both the damaging effects of language marginalization and the significant effects of language maintenance. While I found that the overall syntactic behavior of the énonciatif system is not endangered and that these preverbal particles are in fact spreading to Gascon regions that historically never used them, the system's semantic foundation and regional variations found mainly among native speakers are in danger of disappearing. The significant variation encountered in the énonciatif usage not only challenges some of the prior semantic theories that have been proposed to account for the énonciatif behavior, but more importantly indicates that there is a pressing need to record older native speakers throughout Gascony before this information, of particular import to future speakers who wish to speak the Gascon-specific dialect of their relatives, becomes lost.

Since this system is simply one aspect of the language, the final chapter examines the overall future of Gascon. While I am optimistic provided there is much more political and economic support, the study of Gascon provides yet another example of how quickly a language can disappear and how important it is that action be taken to prevent its loss. Just as the énonciatif system identifies Gascon and is a link to the region's ancestry, the Gascon language is integral to the rich culture, history, and identity of the Gascon region and people.

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