Grammatical taxonomy again: the case of prepositions

Let’s look at the translation of the word ‘whose’. Depending on the case, ‘whose’ can be a

  • relative pronoun: ‘la difficulté dont je t’ai parlé’ (the difficulty I told you about), ‘voilà le professeur dont j’apprécie beaucoup les cours’ (this is the teacher whose classes I really enjoy.)
  • or, more rarely, a preposition: ‘il y avait cinq couleurs, dont le rouge et le bleu’. (there were five colours, including red and blue.)

It is the latter case that we will be looking at. In this case, ‘dont’ is translated into English as ‘including’. In Corsican, the translation is: c’eranu cinque culori, frà i quali u rossu è u turchinu. But if we translate ‘il y avait cinq plantes, dont le ciste et la bruyère’ (‘there were five plants, including cistus and heather’), we get: c’eranu cinque piante, frà e quale u muchju è a scopa. Thus the translation of ‘dont’ (including) as a preposition is either frà i quali (masculine plural, culore being masculine in Corsican) or frà e quale (feminine plural), depending on which noun ‘dont’ refers to.

Thus ‘dont’ is translated into the masculine plural or the feminine plural, depending on the noun – either masculine or feminine – to which it refers. This casts doubt on the ‘prepositional’ nature of ‘dont’, and leads to further analysis to determine whether there might not be a more suitable grammatical type.

It is worth noting that ‘dont (including) can be replaced by ‘parmi lequels’ (among which, frà i quali) or ‘parmi lesquelles’ (among which, frà e quale) depending on whether the noun to which ‘whose’ refers is in the masculine plural or the feminine plural. This suggests that ‘whose’ could be conceived of as a preposition followed by a pronoun. In the spirit of this analysis, the BDL site notes: ‘Dont’ is probably the relative pronoun whose use is the most delicate. To use it correctly, one must know that dont always ‘hides’ the preposition ‘de’; ‘dont’ is equivalent to ‘de qui’, ‘de quoi’, ‘duquel’, etc. This link between ‘dont’ and ‘de’ goes back to the Latin origin of ‘dont’, which is from ‘unde’ “from where”.

More generally, this suggests that further analysis of some prepositions may be needed.

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