Building for the Future: the Potential Significate of avoir

Lori Morris

Abstract


One of the central tenets of Guillaumean linguistics holds that every word has a potential significate (meaning) in tongue! which conditions its various realizations in discourse. Because they are not directly observable, potential significates are notoriously difficult to describe and discuss, and their very existence is a cause of skepticism in some linguistic circles.2 The difficulty is particularly acute when the word in question has a wide range of lexical and grammatical uses in discourse, some of which are very hard to relate to others. Such is the case of the French verb avoir, the focal point of this study. Avoir presents an interesting problem for those in search of its potential significate in that at least two of its uses-the expression of obligation and the formation of the future tense-would not seem to fit in with the others. While the fully lexicalized, partially dematerialized (bleached), and auxiliary uses of avoir share a common resultative and
retrospective orientation, the avoir a + infinitive and future structures would seem prospective in orientation, situating the subject notionally before an event rather than in its result phase. This study looks at avoir both synchronically and diachronically in an attempt to understand how it has come to produce both retrospective and prospective expressive effects. It also seeks to determine whether the search for a potential significate is still a viable linguistic undertaking
when dematerialization has rendered a particular word-in this case the verb avoir reduced to the status of a grammatical morpheme in the future tense-unrecognizable to native speakers.

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