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In certain areas, I've noticed people saying things like “La Suzanne” or “Le Guy”, referring to family members. How widespread is this? I realize it's nonstandard, but are there any rules that govern this use?

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On a side note, it is less rural, but still very familiar to say "Le/la + very-positive-adj + name", as is "Voilà la belle Suzanne !" It's something a grandmother would say when she sees her beloved granddaughter. –  Axioplase Sep 9 '11 at 6:45
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What about La Callas? –  mouviciel Sep 9 '11 at 8:19
    
@mouviciel: very likely a way to make her unique. French (and short) for "The one and only" I guess. It all comes to the same idea. –  Axioplase Sep 9 '11 at 10:33
    
@mouviciel: And La Montespan, La Pompadour, La Castafiore... –  Evpok Sep 9 '11 at 11:17
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@mouviciel, Evpok: beware that all the (interesting) examples you are giving are last names, not first names. Something rather different, I reckon. –  Dave Sep 9 '11 at 21:46

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Je confirme ce que dit Steve Dispensa, c'est beaucoup plus utilisé dans l'est de la France que dans les autres régions. L'emploi dans l'est de la France est du langage courant encore actuel (et aussi employé par des personnes nées après 1945 +), bien qu'en voie de disparition, et n'a aucune connotation particulière. Employé ailleurs en France c'est connoté de façon péjorative.

I confirm what Steve Dispensa says, it is more widely spread in the east of France (and used by people born after 1945 +), than in other parts of the country. Usage in the east of France is declining but still vivid and used there it sounds just neutral. Used elsewhere it is indisputably more or less derogatory.

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+1 I confirm it's used in Lorraine (North-east, near german border), mainly by the rural or low classes of the population, and bad looked by the upper ones. It sounds quite "bad mannered". Bonus points if the first name starts with a vowel, in which case the article is never contracted (I swear I hear this on a regular basis) : la Estelle ... –  Romain VALERI Jul 22 '12 at 17:52

I used it very recently in the chat. The goal was to ‘unpersonify’ someone who did something spectacular.

In this case, It had neither a pejorative connotation nor a “peasantry” one. It's just used to put emphasis on the fact that someone has a specificity. Specificities are often considered a bad thing, but it's not always the case.

However, I wouldn't have used that if we were not part of a family — a FL&U family I mean ;-).

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Be careful: in some areas, it might sound pejorative to use "le"/"la"/"les" before the name (or "ce"/"cette"/"ces").

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It's something between the familiar level and the popular speak. I could use it with some people but will not with others, however relaxed I'm with them.

I can't resist to cite J. Brel (La Fanette) again. But it is difficult to deduce much from such a use in a song.

Nous étions deux amis et Fanette l'aimait
La plage est déserte et pleure sous juillet
Et le soir quelquefois
Quand les vagues s'arrêtent
J'entends comme une voix
J'entends... c'est la Fanette.

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This is definitely a very rural usage, largely denoting "peasantry" (with its typical social stigma in modern society) and never heard in cities. Even in the countryside, I would say the usage is declining (along with most other dialectal practices) and mainly the prerogative of older people nowadays.

As for its origins: I'd be the first curious to know. My best guess would be an ironic jab at posh-sounding particle names...

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I've only heard it from people of the WW2 generation, and particularly among speakers of a regional patois near Alsace and Jura, but I was wondering where else it's heard. –  Steve Dispensa Sep 9 '11 at 5:25
    
@Steve: I'm pretty sure it is not restricted to a particular region: I have heard it in rural south-west areas, Brittany and elsewhere. It is definitely dated, however. –  Dave Sep 9 '11 at 6:33
    
Maybe "le/la" can help differentiate someone close from someone of the same name, but from the other village. It's not any one by this name, it's him/her. I think it's like "mon" when you say "voila mon Georges !" but when you cannot claim property of that person (say, he's not a sibling). –  Axioplase Sep 9 '11 at 6:48
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@SteveDispensa: It is common in German, and as far as I know especially in Schwäbish, Bairisch and Schwiizertüütsch. I don't know if it is common in Elsässerditsch, but since it is Alemannic too it is likely. So perhaps the inclination in Alsace and Jura comes from German dialects. –  Evpok Sep 9 '11 at 11:27
    
It is also used a lot in Champagne-Ardenne to identity individuals from the village or the very close neighborhood. Works only for areas where the risk of first name collisions is very low. –  Johann Blais Oct 24 '11 at 14:33

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