I am still trying to understand the etymology of the French adverbial 'ne que', and so researched the Latin etymons of these two Functional Morphemes for more sapience.
This question concerns only the meaning in V and VII below.

[ Wiktionary in French :] I. (Conjonction 1) Du latin quia, qui exprime la cause.
II. (Conjonction 2) Du latin quam.
III. (Pronom relatif) Du latin qui, quae, quod ; dans l’ancien français, que devint la forme atone du cas régime, sans distinction de genre ni de nombre.
IV. (Pronom interrogatif) Du latin quid.

[...]  [ V. Adverbe 2 : ] Personne excepté, rien excepté. Seulement. Utilisé avec ne.

[...]  [ VI. Etymology 1 : ] From Latin quia.


[VII.] 2. (used with ne) only
(ne ... que   parses roughly as   "(do[es]) not / nothing ... other than")

Somewhere is at least 1 error, because English Wiktionary classifies 'que' as a Conjunction, but French Wiktionary an adverb.

Anyhow, which is the Latin etymon of the French que?

  • I think the structure people would use in Latin is nihil nisi. For example, "I eat nothing but cheese" is nihil edo nisi caseum. Would that be "je ne mange que du fromage" in French? My French is rusty, so I want to check that I understand the "ne-que" correctly. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 20 '16 at 21:38
  • @JoonasIlmavirta: Yup, nisi is a good translation. But the Romans could also express nothing but as nothing other than: nihil aliud quam. – Cerberus Jul 20 '16 at 21:58
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Yes: your French translation is correct! I defer to others though for the Latin. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Jul 20 '16 at 23:50

It would seem logical to me if it came from quam. The Trésor de la langue française does not explain its exact origin, but it does give the meaning of ne ... que as "ne ... rien d'autre que". And other than is often expressed as aliud quam in Latin. The Tlf groups ne ... que under that subsense of que which is a conjunction of comparison, like plus que, mieux que, which works the same way in Latin: plus quam, melius quam. The Tlf mentions that the conjunction que "that", from quia, was at some point confused with the conjunction quam (which probably also sounded somewhat like que by then?), especially with comparatives:

D'autre part, à basse époque, quia s'affaiblit progressivement en qua devant consonne init. et qui devant voyelle; ces deux formes s'étant par la suite, empl. indistinctement, qua se localisa notamment en Italie du Nord et du Sud, et qui en Italie centrale, dans le domaine ibéro-roman et dans le domaine gallo-rom. où il est relevé au viiie s. sous la forme que. Cette forme favorise sa confusion avec le rel. quem, cas régime (que rel.) et la conj. quam, spéc. dans son empl. en corrélation avec un compar. (ixe s.), v. FEW t. 2, 1466ab et J. Herman, op. cit., pp. 125-129.

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