From <i>l’usage</i> to <i>le bon usage</i> and back
This paper examines the extent to which the characterisation of seventeenth-century France as the archetypal period of prescriptivism and rigid codification is justified. The major normative texts are presented, as are the sources currently available for comparing their pronouncements with contemporary usage. Whilst the problem of finding sources which approximate to more spoken and informal usages is particularly acute in a period of standardisation, the creation of large-scale and more specialised corpora is leading to a re-evaluation of seventeenth-century French metalinguistic texts. The final section considers whether there is any evidence that normative comments had an impact on usage. In the case of the remarqueurs, we find that whilst some of their pronouncements are prescriptive, others accurately reflect changing usage.