Has Wrong become Right?

This is the Teachers’ Dilemma that’s been bothering me for years now: which form do I teach my students? Our grammar books give the definitions of to remember as: se rappeler and se souvenir de.  Current language has merged the two, infecting se rappeler with the de of se souvenir. Wrong! All native French speakers – even scholars! – get it wrong according to the textbooks.

After hearing the ‘mistake’ so often, I asked 3 three different friends whose judgement I trust. The first, a distinguished psychoanalyst, declared that no respectable French person would use se rappeler without the de.

The second, a linguistics professor, declared it a “faute” that has been around a long time. It takes her one second more effort, she said, to drop the de after se rappeler. “Il me semble qu’il y a à l’œuvre deux principes : un principe d’analogie et un principe d’économie. C’est que dirait du moins une linguistique fonctionnelle : 1) : l’analogie : pour les locuteurs, ce qui se ressemble par le sens devrait se ressembler par la forme -2) le principe d’économie (= préférer le simple au compliqué, surtout rechercher ce qui demande moins d’effort). Dans ce cas, ils vont dans le même sens.”

The other linguistics professor said he uses the verbs differently and agreed with the economical theory, saying, “la recherche du meilleur rapport qualité-prix reste le principe moteur. Ce n’est pas un laissez aller à la déchéance, mais au contraire la recherche du meilleur rendement possible de chaque effort et de chaque élément de connaissance linguistique.”

I guess the error is similar to the English one that confuses who and whom and that uses words like hopefully wrong. It’s the difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. Which is preferable? I give my students the choice.

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