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Acquisition of complement clitics and tense morphology in internationally adopted children acquiring French*

  • K. GAUTHIER (a1), F. GENESEE (a1) and K. KASPARIAN (a1)


The present study examined the language development of children adopted from China to examine possible early age effects with respect to their use of complement clitics, lexical diversity and verb morphology. We focused on these aspects of French because they distinguish second language learners of French and native French-speaking children with language impairment from children learning French as a native language and, in the case of object clitics and certain verb tenses, are relatively late to emerge in native speakers. Thus, it might be expected that they would be susceptible to the delayed onset of acquisition of French experienced by internationally adopted children. Language samples of twelve adopted children from 3;6 to 4;8 living in French-speaking families were analyzed and compared to those of non-adopted monolingual French-speaking children of the same age, sex and socio-economic status. The adopted and control children had similar levels of socio-emotional adjustment and non-verbal intellectual abilities. The adopted children exhibited accelerated language development in general, and there were no significant differences between the internationally adopted and control children with respect to lexical diversity and verb tense. However, the adopted children made significantly more errors using complement clitics, and in particular object clitics, compared to the non-adopted children. The results are discussed in terms of possible effects related to delayed age of acquisition of French.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Karine Gauthier, Department of Psychology, The Montreal Children's Hospital, 4018 Ste-Catherine West, Montreal (Qc), H3Z 1P2


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This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and by the Center for Research on Language, Mind and Brain (CRLMB). We are also deeply indebted to the parents for their interest and commitment during this study. The adoption agency Société Formons une Famille inc. was of great help in the recruitment of participants. Special thanks to Sonia Guerriero for her helpful input concerning transcription and coding of the data as well as for her guidance at different stages of this study. We thank Theres Grüter and Johanne Paradis for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We would also like to thank Elisa-Maude McConnell and Michelle Limoges for assisting with data collection.



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