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Early verb constructions in French: adjacency on the left edge

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2015

Université Paris Descartes – CNRS, and Laboratory MoDyCo (UMR 7114) & LPPS (EA 4057)
Stanford University
Addresses for correspondence: Edy Veneziano, Université Paris Descartes, Institut de Psychologie, 71 Avenue Edouard Vaillant, Office 4075, 92100 Boulogne Billancourt, France. e-mail:
Eve V. Clark, Department of Linguistics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA; e-mail :


Children acquiring French elaborate their early verb constructions by adding adjacent morphemes incrementally at the left edge of core verbs. This hypothesis was tested with 2657 verb uses from four children between 1;3 and 2;7. Consistent with the Adjacency Hypothesis, children added clitic subjects first only to present tense forms (as in il saute ‘he jumps’); modals to infinitives (as in faut sauter ‘has to jump’); and auxiliaries to past participles (as in a sauté ‘has jumped’). Only after this did the children add subjects to the left of a modal or auxiliary, as in elle veut sauter ‘she wants to jump’, or elle a sauté ‘she has jumped’. The order in which these elements were added, and the development in the frequencies of the constructions, all support the predictions of the Adjacency Hypothesis for left edge development in early verb constructions.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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