5

As is well known, one use of the circumflex in French is to mark the former presence of a deleted letter (typically "s", as in fenêtre/fenestre). However, I can't seem to find many examples of disappearing letters different from "s". This Wikipedia article indicates a few examples of disappearing vowels (like "âge" from "aage") and a single example of a deleted "x" ("dîme" from "dixme").

Are there any more examples of consonants other than "s" that have been replaced by a circumflex?

Proper nouns are also ok (I'm thinking, e.g., of the Saône river, whose name comes from "saoconna", thus making a "c" disappear, although I'm not sure about the transformation into the current name).

  • I think the answers to that question answer yours as well. Have you read them? – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Aug 6 at 10:24
  • @Laure thanks for the link. However, those answers essentially report and discuss the content of the Wikipedia page I included in my question. So the question still stands: are there any examples of deleted consonants other than "s" (and "x" in "dixme")? – Maiaux Aug 6 at 10:30
8

The circumflex of "Saône" seems to have been intended to reflect the pronunciation (like that of Rhône) and isn't etymological. In Middle French, the spelling was in concurrence with Sonne and Saulne, the latter of which seems to be another attempt to reflect the pronunciation /'sɔ:.nə/ (modern /so:n/).

Which leads us to the main issue with this question: since circumflexes originated as a scribal device to indicate an unwritten letter, and lost consonants tended to cause compensatory lengthening, the presence of a circumflex in the modern spelling convention might be motivated by the etymology or the phonology of the word... or both. A non-etymological consonant (and especially ⟨s⟩ and ⟨l⟩) was also used indicate a long vowel, as we saw with ⟨Saulne⟩

In the case of "dîme" for example, the historical ⟨x⟩ was probably used to indicate a long vowel (while hinting at the Latin etymon) and was in competition with ⟨disme⟩. So is the modern ⟨î⟩ replacing this ⟨x⟩, or simply another convention used to represent the same phoneme? Look at the river Aisne, with a similar starting point (Axonam), but whose spelling was never updated to ⟨Aîne⟩.

Likewise "âme", from animam, which appears in OF with variants such as ⟨anme⟩, ⟨alme⟩ or ⟨arme⟩, that might reflect either the actual pronunciation of a consonant, or just represent a long vowel. The word eventually settles on the spellings ⟨ame⟩ and ⟨âme⟩, but should we consider the modern circumflex a replacement of those old letters, or just an alternate spelling of the same phonological phenomenon?

3

Short answer: Yes there are (vowels at least...). Cf. aage et âge, roole et rôle, beeler et bêler, etc. See this article for more details:

https://www.persee.fr/doc/mots_0243-6450_1991_num_28_1_2039

and the FSE question:

Graphie du mot otage

  • Very interesting article. Yet, the examples therein as well as your examples show deletions of vowels and thus do not answer the original question: are there any consonants different from "s" (and "x" in "dixme") that were replaced by the circumflex? – Maiaux Aug 6 at 13:24
  • @Maiaux Sorry I didn't see it. I will check for consonants. – Dimitris Aug 6 at 13:27

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