Bouilhet
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Would it be pretentious of me to use the passé simple in a more serious scholarly essay for a seminar on a French author? I know it's mostly a pure stylistic decision, but I just want to get a consensus on how it comes off when somebody, today, decides to employ this tense in an academic/intellectual context.

Guides to colloquial speech, keep out!!!
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Anna Schoon
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(Original post by Bouilhet)
Would it be pretentious of me to use the passé simple in a more serious scholarly essay for a seminar on a French author? I know it's mostly a pure stylistic decision, but I just want to get a consensus on how it comes off when somebody, today, decides to employ this tense in an academic/intellectual context.

Guides to colloquial speech, keep out!!!
Don't worry; your context for the passé simple is perfect. In fact, this tense is not archaic in France but is still commonly used in certain circumstances - even by small children when they are telling stories! It is a great myth made in Britain that the passé simple is passé.
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Reality Check
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(Original post by Bouilhet)
Would it be pretentious of me to use the passé simple in a more serious scholarly essay for a seminar on a French author? I know it's mostly a pure stylistic decision, but I just want to get a consensus on how it comes off when somebody, today, decides to employ this tense in an academic/intellectual context.

Guides to colloquial speech, keep out!!!
The passé simple is fine for the use you're suggesting - however, it would be good to showcase your mastery of a variety of tenses if this is going to be assessed work.
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atsruser
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(Original post by Anna Schoon)
Don't worry; your context for the passé simple is perfect. In fact, this tense is not archaic in France but is still commonly used in certain circumstances - even by small children when they are telling stories! It is a great myth made in Britain that the passé simple is passé.
This is interesting - I've heard this stated many times - "passé simple is dead in modern French" - but it seems to make little sense. After all, how would the young'uns read any of the older books where the passé simple abounds.

What's the current status with the various past subjunctive tenses these days, though? I guess there must now be people who would struggle to conjugate a lot of these properly, or perhaps even understand them?
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afife
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When I lived in France I often used to see the passé simple in current literature, mainly novels etc.
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Anna Schoon
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(Original post by atsruser)
This is interesting - I've heard this stated many times - "passé simple is dead in modern French" - but it seems to make little sense. After all, how would the young'uns read any of the older books where the passé simple abounds.

What's the current status with the various past subjunctive tenses these days, though? I guess there must now be people who would struggle to conjugate a lot of these properly, or perhaps even understand them?
The past subjunctive is now only ever used in the 3rd person singular and plural, and then only in very formal French. Although not completely dead at this stage, it is certainly dying. It is taught in French primary schools as the alternative form of the perfect conditional because that is often how it is used in literature - but if anyone were to use it in oral French it would come across as pretty pompous.

As for the passé simple, when children make up their own stories they use the passé simple quite naturally. Ditto for any historical references: guides in historical monuments, for example, but also historical references in newspaper articles etc. It is much more widely used than the British education system seems to think!
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Bellamione
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Don't worry, it shouldn't be seen as pretentious ! However, be careful to use it properly, because you can get lost pretty quickly (that's why even if we're French, teachers ask us to use present tense, for example)
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atsruser
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(Original post by Anna Schoon)
The past subjunctive is now only ever used in the 3rd person singular and plural, and then only in very formal French. Although not completely dead at this stage, it is certainly dying. It is taught in French primary schools as the alternative form of the perfect conditional because that is often how it is used in literature - but if anyone were to use it in oral French it would come across as pretty pompous.
Ah, eussé-je su, je ne l'aurais jamais utilisé!

As for the passé simple, when children make up their own stories they use the passé simple quite naturally. Ditto for any historical references: guides in historical monuments, for example, but also historical references in newspaper articles etc. It is much more widely used than the British education system seems to think!
So I guess they use passé simple when the context is "story telling", but revert to passé composé during conversational speech?

So where did this myth arise? I wonder if it was given a little helping hand, as it provided a good excuse for the (further) reduction of the syllabus in GCSE/A level French?

Still, I have a book "Le Français dans tous les sens", itself published in 1988, with the following passage:

".. en 1951, où André Gide, évoquant la souvenir d’un très grand pianiste, emploie le passé simple pour en parler. Or l’emploi de ce temps dans la langue parlée était déjà rare il y a une trentaine d’années"

so I guess the tense has been unusual in spoken French for at least 60 years.
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Bouilhet
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(Original post by atsruser)
Ah, eussé-je su, je ne l'aurais jamais utilisé!



So I guess they use passé simple when the context is "story telling", but revert to passé composé during conversational speech?

So where did this myth arise? I wonder if it was given a little helping hand, as it provided a good excuse for the (further) reduction of the syllabus in GCSE/A level French?

Still, I have a book "Le Français dans tous les sens", itself published in 1988, with the following passage:

".. en 1951, où André Gide, évoquant la souvenir d’un très grand pianiste, emploie le passé simple pour en parler. Or l’emploi de ce temps dans la langue parlée était déjà rare il y a une trentaine d’années"

so I guess the tense has been unusual in spoken French for at least 60 years.

It probably started to die out in spoken French with the turn of the century. It's manifestly evident that it isn't used in familiar language—even if little kids tell stories with it. The point of this post was to gage what kind of vibe the tense gives off in the context of the literature and academic writing of today, where I would figure it could be seen as rather pompous due to its disconnect from everyday French.

For the record, I'm totally unfamiliar with the British education system. I'm an American, from San Francisco, California. I'm in an advanced seminar at what we call the upper division level here, so it's accepted that everybody speaks French. There's no requirement for us to display a certain variety of tenses or anything like that, it's a pure academic essay, think of it like a literature class that you'd actually find in France.
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Anna Schoon
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(Original post by Bouilhet)
It's manifestly evident that it isn't used in familiar language. ... I would figure it could be seen as rather pompous
(Original post by atsruser)
so I guess the tense has been unusual in spoken French for at least 60 years
Thereby hangs a tale - anecdotal, maybe, but certainly interesting. When I moved to rural Brittany nearly 30 years ago I was immensely surprised to find that the older local paysans (having left compulsary education at 14, and being barely able to read or write) would chat about what happened the day before using the passé simple.

Indeed, the use of the passé simple was an indicator of lack of education, not the reverse!

I've not come across this more recently; I suspect most of the old-style paysans have died off, sadly.

(Original post by atsruser)
So I guess they use passé simple when the context is "story telling", but revert to passé composé during conversational speech?

So where did this myth arise? I wonder if it was given a little helping hand, as it provided a good excuse for the (further) reduction of the syllabus in GCSE/A level French?.
I think you're right on both counts. When I did my French A level in 1980 we were still expected to know and use the passé simple and the imperfect subjunctive.
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the bear
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(Original post by atsruser)
This is interesting - I've heard this stated many times - "passé simple is dead in modern French" - but it seems to make little sense. After all, how would the young'uns read any of the older books where the passé simple abounds.

What's the current status with the various past subjunctive tenses these days, though? I guess there must now be people who would struggle to conjugate a lot of these properly, or perhaps even understand them?
Moi j'adore le prétérit. Lorsque je fus elève a l'école je pris un plaisir fou d'utiliser des form littéraires poussiéreux le plus souvent que possible.
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