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I have noticed a tendency to " masstermize" nouns in contemporary informal French, I mean to use nouns as mass terms ( uncountable), though they cannot be strictly used in this way.

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)

(https://www.vivrelyonne.fr/nos-actions/creer-du-lien-social-avec-des-ateliers-des-rencontres-des-chantiers)

  • " là on va être sur de la chaussure de sport" ( a formulation used by 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)

(https://unespecedeblog.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/on-est-sur/)

  • " 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"

  • " 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?

  • It is not clear about what you are looking for. "il y a" and "sur de" can be considered informal syntax, but it seems to me that it is not the case for your other examples. – amegnunsen May 30 '19 at 16:31
  • @amegnunsen. The " il y a" part of the sentence is correct, even in formal French. What strikes me is the fact that " level" is treated as a "stuff" , some part of which would be present in the persons that have a good level. – user24680 May 30 '19 at 16:37
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    It is also common with fruit and vegetables: merchants often say 'de la pomme ? Je n'en ai plus.' But some types of (small) fruit are always uncountable (e.g. grape). – Mathieu Bouville Jun 2 '19 at 5:58
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I've seen reference to this sort of construction being called "massification", and also "transformateur qualitatif".

Massification (en): (grammar) Conversion of a count noun to a mass noun.

Massifier (fr): Faire devenir un phénomène de masse, donner un effet de masse à (quelque chose). [en: To cause to become a mass phenomenon, to give a mass effect to (something).]

In-the-wild example from here, discussing mass nouns (noms indénombrables/massiques) vs. count nouns (noms dénombrables/comptables), emphasis mine:

Les noms indénombrables (ou "massiques") peuvent s'employer avec un partitif au singulier :
Je bois du vin.
Je mange du pain.
Il y a du vent.
J'ai besoin d'oxygène.

Ce qui n'est pas possible pour les noms dénombrables :
*Je bois du bock -> je bois un bock.
*Il y a de l'accident sur la route -> il y a un accident.

(Même si on peut toujours trouver des expressions où l'on "massifie" le
nom en question
:
une rumba -> il y a de la rumba dans l'air
un accident -> avec ce verglas, il y a de l'accident dans l'air
un tibia -> avec ce verglas, il y a du tibia cassé dans l'air).


A more scholarly source which fully discusses the noun categories can be found in Georges Kleiber, Massif/comptable : d'une problématique à l'autre, Langue française 2014/3 (n° 183), pages 3 - 24.

Kleiber uses both the terms massification as well as transformateur qualitatif for this usage:

8: LA QUESTION DES CONVERSIONS OU TRANSFERTS

Comme nous l’avons signalé supra, le fait de postuler que les noms possèdent eux-mêmes le trait comptable ou massif conduit aussi à postuler un phénomène de transfert ou de conversion (ou encore coercition) lorsqu’ils apparaissent dans un emploi qui répond au trait opposé à celui qui est leur trait inhérent : un nom intrinsèquement comptable peut apparaître en emploi massif et, inversement, un nom intrinsèquement massif, peut apparaître en livrée comptable. L’affaire est plutôt bien connue. Les travaux d’avant 2000 ont en effet mis en relief cinq principaux types de changements, en recourant à un machinisme métaphorique pour les expliciter.

Pour le passage du comptable au massif, trois modes de conversion ont été relevés, deux modes sur le plan quantitatif (1 et 2), un sur le plan qualitatif (3) :

  1. celui de l’écrasement de l’entité comptable qui, à l’issue de l’opération, n’est plus qu’une substance sans formes (une « bouillie » pour reprendre le mot de Galmiche, 1989 : 67). Ce modèle de conversion correspond au « broyeur universel » de F. J. Pelletier (1975) et se trouve illustré par un exemple comme : Ne marche pas dedans. Il y a de l’œuf par terre !

  2. celui de la pluralisation indéfinie (Kleiber 1990), qui présente des occurrences d’entités comptables (non broyées !) comme non discernables. Pour représenter ce modèle, M. Galmiche (1989 : 70) a proposé la fiction d’une autre machine, celle du multiplicateur, que l’on trouve à l’œuvre dans des emplois tels que : Il y a du sanglier dans la forêt, Il y avait de la voiture à perte de vue.

  3. celui de la massification qualificative (qui fait écho à la massification quantitative à l’œuvre dans 1- et 2-) (Kleiber 1992, 1994 : 106-107), qui réduit l’occurrence ou les occurrences d’une entité comptable à une substance qualitative homogène, c’est-à-dire qui en fait une sorte de propriété, équivalant sur le plan qualitatif, à ce qu’est la matière sur le plan quantitatif, comme le montrent des énoncés tels que : Ça, c’est de la bagnole !, Cette statue, c’est du Rodin.

Si l’on entendait lui faire correspondre une machine fictive, c’est celle du «transformateur qualitatif» que nous proposerions aujourd’hui.

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  • You're entirely mistaken and this distinction just does not exist in French. Period. Stop projecting English categories onto foreign languages. You're confusing uncountable with quantitatively undetermined. Je bois du vin is "quantitatively undetermined", it's not uncountable. – Arnaud Fournet Jun 4 '19 at 22:00
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    @ArnaudFournet I'm sure you know that there have been multiple competing analyses of the categorization of nouns in French, and it's a subject of some dispute. Certainly there is far more scholarly dispute about this subject than is worth your terse "Period. Stop." comments. I have found a better source for the term "massification" which I will amend this answer to include. – Mark Beadles Jun 4 '19 at 22:59
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Well, as a native speaker of the language, I tend to disagree with your approach. To begin with, this distinction countable/uncountable is a feature of English, not French. In French, the relevant distinctions are animate/inanimate and definite/indefinite.


Regarding "il y a du niveau" it's idiomatic and in my opinion often ironic.


Regarding "on va être sur de la chaussure de sport", this can be compared with "on parle de chaussure de sport", in the first sentence, you need "de la" (relevant feature is indefinite)


Regarding "il y a de la jolie nana par ici", it reifies "girls" (relevant feature is shifting animate into inanimate). It somehow translates as "there's nice chick meat here". I expect females to disapprove this kind of sentences...

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    French does have a distinction between noms indénombrables/massiques (non-count nouns) vs. noms dénombrables/comptables (count nouns), right? This usage seems to be a case of deliberately bending that distinction for rhetorical effect. – Mark Beadles Jun 4 '19 at 19:31
  • No, French does not have that distinction. It's a feature of English, not French. – Arnaud Fournet Jun 4 '19 at 21:59
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    If you believe that the noms (in)dénombrables analysis is incorrect, you should provide evidence for that - it doesn't suffice to simply state that the distinction is wrong. – WavesWashSands Jun 5 '19 at 4:06
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    This word "dénombrable" is hardly a French word and it's not a grammatical notion in French grammar. cnrtl.fr/definition/d%C3%A9nombrable – Arnaud Fournet Jun 5 '19 at 5:50
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I'm hardly speaking french, so my suggestion may seem unusual, but take jolie as the headword and nana as an adjective, morpheme or ... Thus you would have to write jolie-nana with a hyphen, except that french adjectives regularly appear in post position.

German equally has recently gotten such a feature in slang, so perhaps the development is not unique to french. There is e.g. Er ist [ein] Hurensohn. I'm sorry that "He is son-bitch" is the first example I can think of, but at least I'm sure it's idiomatic, and it shows the register. You could also say Er ist Boss. Omiting the indefinite article ein is irregular, and lets the object appear like an adjective or an uncount/plural noun. It's still clearly a noun, but the adjective/noun distinction is blured. For terms of occupation or other proper names, the omission is regular, so boss is in a grey area. Usually it would be der Boss, because there can be only one. However, in that case further qualification via articles should not be needed.

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