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Languages 2018, 3(3), 29; https://doi.org/10.3390/languages3030029

French Postverbal Subjects: A Comparison of Monolingual, Bilingual, Trilingual, and Multilingual French

Fakultät 1, Romanische Sprachwissenschaft, Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Gaußstraße 20, 42119 Wuppertal, Germany
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Received: 13 November 2017 / Revised: 23 July 2018 / Accepted: 24 July 2018 / Published: 28 July 2018
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Abstract

Monolingual French children have been observed to pass through a stage which is characterized by the production of target-deviant postverbal subjects of the following type (Jansen 2015, p. 272): est tombé Philippe ‘is fallen Philippe’ (Philippe, 2;2,10), écrit bien celui-là ‘writes well this one’ (Philippe, 2;2,2) (De Cat 2002; Déprez and Pierce 1993; Ferdinand 1993, 1996; Friedemann [1993] 1994; Labelle and Valois 1996; Pierce 1989). Interestingly, bilingual children who acquire French together with German produce postverbal subjects to an extremely low degree in mean length of utterance (MLU)-phases compared with monolingual children (Jansen 2015). Arguably, they skip the postverbal subject phase and are accelerated with respect to monolingual children. In our study, we tested whether multilingualism can speed up the acquisition process in French. A production test with 62 multilingual children (starting at 2;7 acquiring two, three, or four L1s) was administered in Spain and Germany to elicit finite verbs and DP (Determiner Phrase) subjects in French. The children’s proficiency in French was measured on the basis of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) (Dunn et al. 1993). In comparison with monolinguals studied in the literature, the bilingual children and the children who acquired more than two languages were accelerated with respect to the placement of subjects in the postverbal position. Although the multilingual children who ranked low in the PPVT exhibited all kinds of structures as responses to the test items that are characteristic of early French, such as null-subjects, root infinites and bare nouns, they did not use postverbal subjects. The absence of postverbal subjects was observed not only in children who acquired either German (or English) at the same time as French, as did the bilingual children in Jansen’s (2015) study, but also in children who acquired, in addition to French, a Romance language like Spanish, Catalan, or Italian, all null-subject languages which allow postverbal subjects in the adult language. Following (Biberauer and Richards 2006), the extended projection principle (EPP) feature of T (Tense) can be satisfied in different ways across languages: if a DP is necessary, which it is in adult French, it can be raised from Spec,vP (specifier of vP, of the small-verb Phrase) to Spec,TP (specifier of Tense Phrase) (in which case the finite verb surfaces in T). This is the default of EPP satisfaction in T. It is this option which is facilitated and boosts the acquisition of the preverbal subject position in early bilingual, trilingual, and multilingual French. The result that the children who acquired a null-subject language such as Spanish also enjoyed an advantage in French, adult Spanish being a language that allows for postverbal subjects, indicates that it is plausible that the default character of DP-raising for EPP satisfaction, instantiated in all languages involved, is the reason for its high relevance in the early French of bilingual, trilingual, and multilingual children. If our analysis of the multilingual data is plausible, monolingual French children exhibit more variation in satisfying the EPP-feature (in T) than children who acquire one or more other languages in addition to French, an observation which goes back to (Meisel 1989). View Full-Text
Keywords: French; postverbal subjects; EPP satisfaction; cross-linguistic influence French; postverbal subjects; EPP satisfaction; cross-linguistic influence
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Gil, L.A.; Müller, N. French Postverbal Subjects: A Comparison of Monolingual, Bilingual, Trilingual, and Multilingual French. Languages 2018, 3, 29.

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