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I have noticed a tendency to "masstermize" nouns (so to say) in contemporary informal French.

What I call "masstermize" a noun is to use a countable noun in the following way :

verb + partitive article (du , de la) + noun.

Maybe one could call this phenomenon "stuffization": treating a whole set of discrete entities as a stuff.

For example :

  • "attention, il y a du niveau !" (in order to express the fact that the persons performing a certain activity have an amazingly good level)

  • "il faut remettre du lien social" (it is necessary to strengthen social links that are getting looser and looser)

  • "là on va être sur de la chaussure de sport" (a formulation used by shop selling agents to express the fact that the products they are talking about no longer belong to kind A, but now belong to a new kind B)

  • "il y a de la jolie nana par ici" (there are many nice girls in this place)

The correct sentences would be :

  • "attention, il y a des personnes de bon niveau !" or "attention, il y a un bon niveau !"

  • "il faut resserrer les liens sociaux"

  • "là on va arriver dans le domaine des chaussures de sport"

  • "il y a de(s) jolies nana ici"

Can the examples I provide actually be analyzed in terms of "masstermization"?

Is this phenomenon also known in other languages than French?

Has it been studied in linguistics of French language? In case it has, which name has it received and how has it been explained?

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    Ce qui est sûr c'est qu'il y a du concept. Joke apart, these are very good examples. I wonder where you got them form. – Stéphane Gimenez May 30 at 18:12
  • @StephaneGimenez. These are things I've heard sometimes ( and probably said...). I've asked the same question on Linguistics SE and have provided some web links: < linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/31625/…> – Ray LittleRock May 30 at 18:17
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    I wonder why the term is not more simply "massization". – LPH May 30 at 18:21
  • @LPH. You're right. I coined this expression a bit quickly, without reflecting much. Heve you ever read " massization" in linguistic literature? – Ray LittleRock May 30 at 18:24
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    No, I just thought it was the more evident option after checking in the dictionary the possibility of it being already defined and having found nothing else than "massify" and "massification"; those belong to the vocabulary of sociology. – LPH May 30 at 18:45
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I think some of your examples are very different from others.

Ajouter du lien social and être sur de la chaussure de sport don't sound like a misuse of countable items as uncountable. The partitif can be used with indeterminate quantities of countable things, most commonly for food and drinks; for example, achète du pain et de la banane, which doesn't mean that it's not possible to count loaves of bread or bananas, but that one thinks of these items as bulk. "Être sur de la chaussure de sport" is another example of this. It is a bit colloquial due to "être sur", but otherwise sounds correct.

De la jolie nana is definitely different because it implies the derogatory treatment of people as things.

Finally du niveau seems to be a different case yet, which is that a skill level can't really be added, so doesn't make sense to describe as a bulk quantity. It's often used incorrectly for emphasis, as you seem to already know.

  • @qoba.Thanks for this careful analysis! ( As far as I am concerned, I really cannot get used to " ajouter du lien social"... matter of taste maybe). – Ray LittleRock Jun 1 at 8:02
  • There is no partitive in “le spécialiste de la chausure de sport”. – Stéphane Gimenez Jun 2 at 7:03
  • @StéphaneGimenez ah oui corrigé - merci – qoba Jun 2 at 21:19
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La figure de style qui transforme en "chose indénombrable" ce qui ne l'est pas est du domaine de la métaphore. Quand elle s'applique à des être humains, on peut l’appeler réification, cf. TLFi

B.LING., Procédure narrative qui consiste à transformer un sujet humain en objet, en l'inscrivant dans la position syntaxique d'objet à l'intérieur du programme narratif d'un autre sujet (Greimas-Courtés 1979).

De la jolie nana correspond exactement à ça.

Le terme peut être aussi utilisé plus largement :

A. − PHILOS. Transformation, transposition d'une abstraction en objet concret, en chose.

C'est l'article partitif qui produit cette transformation dans tous les exemples de la question.

Le procédé n'est pas nouveau, on le trouve il y a plus de cent ans avec des expressions comme bouffer du curé ou tuer du boche.

La chosification de personnes est bien sûr insultante, comme l'a été celle de la phrase suivante qui a fait polémique il y a deux ans :

Mais le kwassa-kwassa pêche peu, il amène du Comorien. C'est différent.


The figure of speech which makes an uncountable noun out of a count noun is a type of metaphor. When applied to human beings, we can call it réification, cf. TLFi

B.LING., Procédure narrative qui consiste à transformer un sujet humain en objet, en l'inscrivant dans la position syntaxique d'objet à l'intérieur du programme narratif d'un autre sujet (Greimas-Courtés 1979).

De la jolie nana is such an example.

The term can be used more widely:

A. − PHILOS. Transformation, transposition d'une abstraction en objet concret, en chose.

The partitive article is what introduces this transformation in all the examples from the question.

This is not new. We find it more than a century ago with expressions like bouffer du curé (be strongly anticlerical) or tuer du boche (kill some germans).

These reifications are obviously offensive, like the following one which caused an outcry two years ago:

Mais le kwassa-kwassa pêche peu, il amène du Comorien. C'est différent.

  • Talking about people, it's quite rude and sometimes it can be scornful. Particularly in examples given above or in your question @Ray LittleRock – purerstamp May 31 at 21:05
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    @suiiurisesse Merci ! – jlliagre Jun 3 at 22:18

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