Often the idea of a column comes to us from astonishment, a simple question to which we do not have the answer and which we must seek. For example, this morning, this one: why do nouns and adjectives ending in -al in the singular give -ales to the feminine but very often-to the masculine? This is indeed the case for most: horse-horses, canal-canals, main-main … Why then this different treatment reserved for men? Treatment which, however, cannot be said to constitute a privilege.
Information taken, it would be the consequence of a phenomenon that linguists call “velarization”. In the old pronunciation, from Low Latin which became French in the Middle Ages, the plurals in -als, which were commonplace, were pronounced with a deaf, even guttural “a”, and we said the “s”. From where a kind of sound “aous” which gave the modern “to”. While in the feminine, the presence of the final “e” prompted a clear “a” to be heard. Thus caballum gave horse and caballos horses … The “s” being changed to “x” by convention of copyists, to make it shorter. We note the same phenomenon in certain variants of Occitan (for example in Provençal or in Gascon) where the final “l” is vocalized, as in ostal, (the house) which is often pronounced “ostaou” and can be written ostau. Or solelh which can become soleu.
There are to this rule male plurals in -als (which poses a problem for children, who spontaneously speak of “horses”) quite a few exceptions. So festival or carnival. Quite simply because these words come to us from another language: festival of English; Italian carnival.
The same goes for animal names, such as the jackal, the whale or the gharial. Some adjectives also prefer to do without -aux, such as banal, natal, pascal, fractal, fatal or tombal (which goes with it…), or naval. We do not say “shipyards”. Others admit both endings, such as final, tribal, icy or jovial …
Which does not simplify anything. But the masculine plurals in -als tend to fade. Question of use… A use which seems to have been regularized since the 17th century, a great moment of standardization of French.
Sometimes the sound is removed to avoid confusion. Thus stall gives stalls and not stalls. And the plural of pal (appreciated by Vlad the Impaler) is not pale… But, luckily for our skin, we hardly use it anymore. In colloquial terms, futal (which is used a lot) does not become futaux or affutiaux. And because all is not lost, stal, even in the plural, remains stals… but it is an abbreviation. He lost his appendix in -ineal, and is not really what it used to be.