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Object clitics and their omission in child L2 French: The contributions of processing limitations and L1 transfer*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2011

Stanford University
Dalhousie University
Address for correspondence: Theres Grüter, Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, 1890 East-West Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA


This article explores the widely documented difficulty with object clitics in the acquisition of French. The study investigates the effects of L1 transfer and processing limitations on the production and comprehension of object clitics in child L2 learners of French with different L1 backgrounds (Chinese, Spanish). The Spanish-speaking learners performed better than Chinese-speaking learners on clitic-related tasks, indicating a facilitative effect of transfer when the L1 also has object clitics. Yet no evidence was found for (negative) transfer of null objects from Chinese to French, as learners consistently rejected interpretations requiring referential null objects on a receptive task. The frequency of Chinese-speaking learners’ object omissions in production was negatively correlated with an independent measure of working memory (backward digit span), consistent with the hypothesis that object clitic omission is affected by processing limitations. These findings are discussed within a psycholinguistic model of syntactic encoding during language production.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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We would like to thank Andréanne Gagné, Mariana Nuñez, Chen Qu, and Monika Szpak for their invaluable assistance with participant recruitment and testing, and Carole Bélanger, Lucas Champollion, Adriana Weisleder, the audiences of the 7th International Symposium on Bilingualism at Utrecht University and the 34th Boston University Conference on Language Development, as well as the anonymous reviewers for BLC for their many helpful comments at various stages of this study. This research was conducted while both authors were affiliated with l'Université de Montréal. The project was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) to Theres Grüter, and a FQRSC team grant to Lydia White, Martha Crago and colleagues, for which we are grateful.


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