Language Variation and Change

Research Article

Age grading in the Montréal French inflected future

Suzanne Evans Wagnera1 and Gillian Sankoffa2

a1 Michigan State University

a2 University of Pennsylvania


The rise of the periphrastic future (PF) at the expense of the inflected future (IF) is an established historical trend in Québécois French over at least the past 150 years. Previous research has also found higher rates of PF among younger speakers, many displaying categorical use in affirmative contexts. Because an apparent time interpretation of the synchronic data fits the historical record, we expected concomitant speaker stability across the lifespan. On the contrary, our panel study of 60 Montréal speakers (1971–1984) reveals age grading in a retrograde direction. As they aged, two-thirds of the speakers we studied increased their frequency of IF, an effect heightened for members of higher socioprofessional groups. Though not sufficiently robust to stem the historical tide, increased IF use by older speakers may retard the change somewhat, providing continuing IF input to child L1 acquisition. Rather than vitiating an apparent time interpretation, these results indicate that the rate of change may be slightly overestimated if age grading acts in a retrograde direction.

We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for funding this research (“Language Change Across the Lifespan,” BCS-0132463). Thanks in particular to Pierrette Thibault for consultation at many stages of this work, and to Julie Corder Medero, who wrote and revised our Python scripts. For comments, corrections, suggestions, and additional readings, we also thank Hélène Blondeau, Michael Friesner, Rick Grimm, Damien Hall, Laura Jensen, Mike Jones, Bill Labov, Marcin Morzycki, Terry Nadasdi, Kali Bybel, audience members at NWAV (New Ways of Analyzing Variation) 34, and two anonymous reviewers for Language Variation and Change. All remaining errors are entirely our own.