Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Mazzola, Michael Lee

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures


French language--History; Linguistics--France--History; Linguistic analysis (Linguistics)


The purpose of this study is to examine the differences between the prescriptive and descriptive approaches to language. More specifically, I wish to analyze different periods in the history of the French language to illustrate how the prevailing socio-political situation affected its evolution. Finally, I discuss the political and social ramifications of prescriptive linguistics with regard to power. In chapter one, I discuss the differences between the prescriptive and descriptive approaches to language. I also outline the historical trends, showing the different impacts on the language during selected periods. Chapter two centers on structuralism and its attempt to analyze language on a purely formal basis, excluding any social circumstances that influence linguistic interaction. I point out that the main idea stemming from structuralism is that language exists on its own as an independent entity and in fact in spite of its descriptive claims limits the individual's freedom by restricting what one can and cannot say. Chapter three is devoted to the symbolic power of language. Here I give the main criticisms of structuralism and suggest that language is much more than the independent entity that formalists propose. Language is inextricably bound up in the social, political, and historical aspects of the society that created it. However, mindful of the consequences these might have for the freedom of the individual, I argue that the speaker must preserve the option to use language to his/her own advantage.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [63]-64)


64 pages




Northern Illinois University

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