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I've noticed on the french wikipedia that "chez [species]" is often used to refer to the properties of a particular species of animals, particularly "chez l'humain". Many examples on this usage can be seen at, for example,

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organe_vom%C3%A9ronasal

"Chez les mammifères, cet organe est spécialisé dans la détection des phéromones..."

"Chez les Catarrhiniens (Macaques, Babouins, et Hominidés), le système voméronasal est vestigial."

I've seen it used in this more general sense in other places as well.

https://www.gnis-pedagogie.org/sujet/espece-et-variete-quelles-differences/

"Chez les animaux, ils ont ainsi créé des races ; et, pour les plantes cultivées, des variétés."

  1. Is this usage accepted in formal writing and/or understood in vernacular speech?

  2. If so, are there many other situations in which "chez [name]" may refer to something other than a location or dwelling of something other than a person or group of people? To what extent is such generalization of its usage deemed acceptable?

From checking other questions I saw someone asking about the usage of "Ne pas utiliser chez l'enfant de 5 ans et moins." as a warning on pharmaceuticals.

[Apologies, I can read french but not yet write it confidently]

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    There are several usages of chez and they are not "acceptable" but correct if not mandatory: linternaute.fr/dictionnaire/fr/definition/chez and larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/chez/15246 and fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/chez – Destal Jan 2 at 9:10
  • None of those sources makes the living/nonliving distinction. In fact linternaute.fr includes the definition "Dans un groupe, une catégorie donnée." which seems to contradict the answer below, and other two sources only include definitions regarding groups of people rather than non-human animals. – G. Summers Jan 2 at 10:50
  • It's mainly used for living beings but I wouldn't say it's a strict rule. I could imagine someone saying: Chez les vins de Bordeaux, on retrouve ce goût caractéristique de fruit (I know nothing about wine, I'm just pretending). Of course dans would work too. I guess using chez for nonliving things is a form of emphasis. – Destal Jan 2 at 14:50
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This usage is taken into account in the TLFi (chez, C) and it belongs both to the formal language and the everyday language.

C. [Avec des pluriels, des collectifs ou des singuliers de sens générique; le groupe prépositionnel désigne une classe d'êtres dont on décrit les traits ou les comportements spécifiques.]

I

There are several syntactic categories of noun phrases in which this preposition can be found. It can be translated in some cases approximately by "characteristic of" or "as pertains to", "for".

  • Il n'y a pas chez l'éléphant d'instinct qui, comme on le croyait, le mènerait vers un cimetière quand vient la mort. (There does not exist an instinct characteristic of the elephant which, as we believed it, should lead the animal towards a graveyard when death approaches.)

  • Chez l'enfant en bas âge vous ne devriez pas utiliser ce médicament.
    (As pertains to young children you shouldn't use this drug.)

1/ [plural nouns] chez les enfants, chez les physiciens, chez les artistes, chez les étudiants, chez les allemands, …

Do not confuse "chez les allemands" as meaning "amongst German people" and "as pertains to the German people".

  • Chez les allemands vous devez vous habituer à une sorte de politesse qui leur est propre. (Here, you can't say "l'allemand" (not correct), whereas in the next sentence you can do that without changing the meaning.)

  • Chez les allemands/l'allemand le sens de la discipline est plus fort.
    (As pertains to the Germans their sense of discipline is stronger.)

2/ [noun modified by a quantifier] chez l'immense majorité des professeurs, chez la plupart des hommes agés, chez certains des sujets, chez presque tous les malades, chez quelques uns des étrangers en vacance ici, chez l'ensemble des vertébrés, …

3/ [term referring to a group including pronouns and periphrastic terms] chez la plupart, chez le reste, chez eux, chez ceux que nous allons étudier, chez la plus grande partie,

4/ [generic, singular noun] chez l'embryon, chez la plante jeune, chez l'insecte, chez l'homme, chez l'enfant en bas âge, chez le cep américain, chez l'allemand,

5/ [noun or pronoun referring to a given person] chez Pierre, chez lui, chez ce monsieur,

particularly used for writers, philosophers, thinkers      chez Bergson, chez Sartre, chez Camus, chez Thomas Man,…

II

As the definition tells us this usage is specific to "beings" ("êtres") although there is much discussion as to whether things as embryos ("embryons"), vine stocks ("ceps") or plants are really beings. There is nevertheless a clear limit as indubitably inanimate entities can't be used in combination with "chez".

  • nouns that can't be used

    • objects     maison, chaise, métal, papier, livre (chez le livre ancien, chez le livre moderne), tissu, vêtement, etc
    • abstract nouns     liberté, passion, feignantise, ardeur, fierté, abnégation, etc.

Addition due to a comment from user JD2000

Comments
I can't produce such a specific rule myself, and it is very specific if we can't link the species "book" to a genenral category. Nevertheless I am absolutely sure that I have never found such constructions for plain material objects or even not so plain, as for example preparations (chez la viande de bœuf, chez le fromage jeune, chez le travail de cet artiste, chez la peinture classique,…). Shouldn't we keep things well separated so as to preserve a clearly defined usage? —LPH

Is the "chez" in those examples the same as the "chez" in @Destal 's example though? I notice that Destal's example is in the plural, whereas yours are all in the singular. Could there be a difference in meaning analogous to chez les allemands = physically in their territory vs chez Balzac = in Balzac's writing? In other words would ce style particulier qu'on retrouve chez le livre ancien be more objectionable than cette odeur particulière qu'on retrouve chez les livres anciens? — JD2000

Reply

Yes, the meaning is the same. No, there is not the least difference between "chez + sing;" and "chez + pl.". Whether you say "chez l'enfant en bas âge" or "chez les enfants en bas âge" the same meaning is conveyed; there is one difference in the frequency of use: the plural form is sometimes preferred; sometimes also this preferrence is such as to make the plural forms almost unique (for instance "chez le mammifère" is hardly used).

chez l'enfant/les enfants.

chez l'adulte/les adultes

chez les humains/l'humain

chez l'être humain/les êtres humains

chez les mammifères/chez le mammifère

chez les insectes/l'insecte

The plain reason for the singular in my examples is that the nouns are mass nouns; the concept of "chez", not meaning specifically "physically" as you say and as if by oppposition to "abstractedly" but meaning "amongst" has nothing to do in this question. Nevertheless, you raise a subtle question, which is "What is the real difference in meaning between the two?".

The question as regards user Destal's example (chez le livre ancien/chez les livres anciens) is whether there is or not an established usage for this type of thing. An ngram shows that neither form is used in the literature, which is a non negligeable indication; you can't find "chez le peintre moderne/chez les peintres modernes" either but I have no doubt (according to the principle of usage justified through analogous species) that you can say that; there is no question at all for the word "impressioniste" for instance. I believe that you don't find those forms user Destal refers to, and that you shouldn't go beyond established usage. A criterion for the deciding of whether the usage is possible, besides that of the objectionable one formulated in the definition of the TLFi that the noun could be that of a being (être) is that the noun must be that of something that is capable of a substantial enough evolution, but that is not good enough either: for instance, political movements and doctrines are just that, entities in constant evolution; yet you do not say "chez le MacCartheyism" and all you find is "dans le maccarthysme".

Note that in this example we are not at a loss for constructions to express the desired idea in a more versatile fashion than that allowed by the merely factual "chez": "odeur particulière qui émane des livres anciens", "odeur particulière [propre aux/caractéristique des] livres anciens", "odeur particulière qui presque immanquablement s'associe aux livres anciens", etc. I'll say one more time that there is no difference in the use of the singular and the plural, both are equally valid means of expressing the concept of "generic entity" and that's what concerns us when talking about this particular sort of noun used with "chez": they are to be used as terms naming a species. In the expressions I chose, "les" could have been replaced by "le" ("odeur particulière qui émane du livre ancien"). Both "chez les livres anciens" or "chez le livre ancien" are not idiomatic at all, I believe. Moreover, I see no definite argument for joining this type of word to the usage and therefore I think it best for the time being, without the support of further light on the subject, to keep to the norm that has left us the toil of ages past in the domain of coining usage.

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  • Thank you for such a comprehensive answer. – G. Summers Jan 2 at 11:37
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    I wouldn't be so assertive about the "can't be used" part. Is there really a rule that forbids saying: "Il est cette odeur particulière qu'on retrouve chez les livres anciens et qui nous fait quitter la réalité avant même de commencer à les lire"? I don't know such a rule so my guess is that it's less natural but can work as an emphasis. – Destal Jan 2 at 14:56
  • @Destal I can't produce such a specific rule myself, and it is very specific if we can't link the species "book" to a genenral category. Nevertheless I am absolutely sure that I have never found such constructions for plain material objects or even not so plain, as for example preparations (chez la viande de bœuf, chez le fromage jeune, chez le travail de cet artiste, chez la peinture classique,…). Shouldn't we keep things well separated so as to preserve a clearly defined usage ? – LPH Jan 2 at 16:49
  • Is the chez in those examples the same as the chez in @Destal 's example though? I notice that Destal's example is in the plural, whereas yours are all i the singular. Could there be a difference in meaning analogous to chez les allemands = physically in their territory vs chez Balzac = in Balzac's writing? In other words would ce style particulier qu'on retrouve chez le livre ancien be more objectionable than cette odeur particulière qu'on retrouve chez les livres anciens? – JD2000 Jan 6 at 7:47
  • @JD2000 As there is much that can be said and as it is not trivial I'll make my reply in the answer. – LPH Jan 6 at 11:42
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Is this usage accepted in formal writing and/or understood in vernacular speech?

This usage is more common in written French and academic speech than in everyday's speech.

If so, are there many other situations in which "chez [name]" may refer to something other than a location or dwelling of something other than a person or group of people? To what extent is such generalization of its usage deemed acceptable?

It is acceptable to refer to anything that can have a "house" (in a broad sense), i.e. everything that lives so not restricted to people and includes animals (e.g.: chez les baleines) and even plants (e.g.: chez les feuillus).

It might also be used when referring to objects that are personified like with:

Du cannibalisme chez les étoiles. (Science et Avenir)

The pharmaceuticals advice you referred to in your question Emploi de « chez » dans une précaution d'emploi is using chez not to mean "at someone's home" but "with".

Note: Chez l'humain is not very idiomatic, we'd rather say chez l'homme or chez l'être humain.

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  • Thank you, that's a very clear definition. In other words in written academic usage "chez" can be used to refer to the properties of a group of living entities but NOT non-living or abstract entities (for example it couldn't be used to refer to a class of mathematical objects). – G. Summers Jan 2 at 10:48
  • That's it, unless you impersonate the objects: (e.g. sciencesetavenir.fr/espace/…) – jlliagre Jan 2 at 10:57
  • Ah, that makes perfect sense as figurative writing. – G. Summers Jan 2 at 11:14
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    Minor point in a good answer, but the proper English word here is personify rather than impersonate. – Peter Shor Jan 6 at 13:09
  • @PeterShor Thanks for the right word! – jlliagre Jan 6 at 13:32

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