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The case for diglossia: Describing the emergence of two grammars in the early acquisition of metropolitan French*


This article supports the diglossic approach to variation in metropolitan French by delving into the subject from the point of view of acquisition. Drawing on naturalistic data from 37 native French children between the ages of 2;3 and 4;0, the investigation exemplifies the existence of two cognate, but distinct grammars in the mind/brain of these children. The distinction between Spontaneous French (G1, all children) and Normed French (G2, 4 children by age 4) hinges upon two crucial characteristics, i.e. the morpho-syntactic status of nominative clitics and the emergence of the negative particle ne. Accusative clitics with imperatives and past-participle agreement are also examined in order to gain a comprehensive picture of the two grammars. Finally, the emergence of ne is interpreted as a trigger forcing a speaker to move from G1 to G2 due to the total unavailability of ne in G1.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Katerina Palasis, Laboratoire Bases, Corpus, Langage - (BCL) UMR 7320, Campus Saint Jean d'Angely - SJA3/MSH, 24 avenue des Diables Bleus, F-06357 Nice Cedex 4France email:
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I would like to thank Benjamin Massot, Paul Rowlett and two anonymous reviewers for their very constructive comments on earlier versions of this article. This research was supported by the French-German ANR-DFG grant awarded to the project ‘Dialectal, acquisitional, and diachronic data and investigations on subject pronouns in Gallo-Romance’ (DADDIPRO, 2012-2015, no. ANR 11 FRAL 007 01) led by Michèle Oliviéri (BCL UMR 7320 CNRS – Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis) and Georg Kaiser (University of Konstanz).

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Journal of French Language Studies
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