1

How do comme and bien semantically appertain to comme's definitions below in 2021 Modern French? Neither of them signifies the definitions below.

  1. Dans quelle mesure, à quel point.
  2. quelle quantité, quel nombre.

combien | Usito

11e s. (in NPR); de l'ancien français com « comme » et bien.

COMBIEN : Etymologie de COMBIEN

Composé de l'a. fr. com (comme*) et de bien*.

1
  • You understand if you look at the etymology of comme, it takes a better knowledge of Latin than mine to explain it clearly. Latin SE might be able to help.
    – None
    Sep 14 at 5:17
2

The French combien is unique among the Romance languages.

All of them inherited a word from the Latin quantus ("how much/how many/how big"). It is quant in French, Catalan and Occitan, quanto in Italian and Portuguese, cuanto in Spanish, cât in Romanian, and so on.

However, the French quant was competing with its homonymous quant1, inherited from the Latin quando ("when"). The reason is that unlike the remaining Romance languages, French turned the Latin last consonant D into a T to match the way it was pronounced. Spanish distinguish cuando from cuanto, Italian quando from quanto, Romanian cât from când, and so on but there was a clash in French.

Because of this collision, French had to find an alternative. It replaced2 the first quant by the periphrasis com bien (i.e. comme bien / comment bien) that eventually merged into the new adverb combien. Here comme comes from the late Latin quomodo (literally: "what way", i.e. "how") and bien from the Latin bene ("well") so combien literally means "how well".

Some linguists think that this creation might have been influenced by a Germanic adstrate, because of a similar construction in it: German has wie viel ("how many") and Dutch hoeveel ("how many/how much").

1 Later, quant was modified to quand to show its Latin roots but without affecting its pronunciation. We still pronounce T in Quand elle viendra: /kɑ̃tɛlvjɛ̃dʁa/.

2 This quant only survives in the idiom quant à.

2
  • Très intéressant. Sur le fait que l'on prononce T en faisant la liaison à la fin de quand, n'est-ce pas plutôt la façon habituelle de transformer des son lors des liaisons (s->z, d->t, g->k) plutôt qu'un vestige étymologique du latin ?
    – XouDo
    Sep 14 at 14:39
  • @XouDo Ce qui est un vestige étymologique du Latin, c'est le D final du masculin qui a été restauré par Vaugelas. Ce D se prononçait et s'écrivait T en ancien français. On retrouve la même chose avec grand qui s'est d'abord aussi écrit avec un T final plus conforme avec la phonétique. Tous les D placés en position finale se prononçaient T au moyen âge, prend-il s'écrivait prent il (ainsi qu'il est yci figuré, et la se prent il par le pié.)
    – jlliagre
    Sep 14 at 15:51

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