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    This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Grohmann, Kleanthes K. and Neokleous, Theoni 2015. Acquisition of clitics: A brief introduction. Lingua, Vol. 161, p. 1.

    Palasis, Katerina 2015. Subject clitics and preverbal negation in European French: Variation, acquisition, diatopy and diachrony. Lingua, Vol. 161, p. 125.

    Lahey, Mybeth and Ernestus, Mirjam 2014. Pronunciation Variation in Infant-Directed Speech: Phonetic Reduction of Two Highly Frequent Words. Language Learning and Development, Vol. 10, Issue. 4, p. 308.


Reduced auxiliaries in early child language: Converging observational and experimental evidence from French1

  • CRISTINA D. DYE (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 14 December 2010

Since early studies in language development, scholars have noticed that function words, in particular auxiliaries, often appear to be missing in early speech, with the result that child utterances sometimes exhibit verbs with non-finite morphology in seemingly matrix clauses. This has led to the idea of a ‘deficit’ in the child's syntactic representations. In contrast with previous studies, this article explores the possibility that the child's phonology may considerably impact her overt realization of auxiliaries. Specifically, it examines the hypothesis that non-finite verbs in early speech are in fact attempted periphrastics (i.e. auxiliary/modal+non-finite verb) in which the auxiliaries are just reduced phonetically, often to the point where they remain unpronounced. We studied 28 normally developing French-speaking children aged between 23 and 37 months. New observational data uncovered a continuum in a given child's phonetic realizations of auxiliaries. Children showed various levels of auxiliary reduction, suggesting that their non-finite verbs are best analyzed as being part of periphrastics involving an auxiliary form that represents the endpoint on this continuum, i.e. is (completely) deleted. Further examination of these verbs revealed that their semantics corresponds to the semantics of adult periphrastics. Additionally, the results of an experiment where children imitated sentences with either periphrastic or synthetic verbs showed that responses with non-finite verbs were predominantly produced when the target sentence involved a periphrastic, rather than a synthetic verb.

Corresponding author
Author's address: Centre for Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, University of Salford, Greater Manchester M5 4WT, UK & Department of Neuroscience, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057,
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I am deeply indebted to Barbara Lust, Yasuhiro Shirai, and especially John Whitman for significant contributions. My gratitude also goes to the following: Marc Brunelle, Allan Dye, Claire Foley, Ewa Jaworska, Yumiko Nishi, Carol Rosen, Nick Sobin, Michael Ullman, Lisa Zsiga, an anonymous JL referee, as well as the children, parents, and daycare staff. This research is based on data collected for my 2005 doctoral dissertation, which was supported by a Sicca Research Grant and a Cognitive Studies Fellowship from Cornell University. The speech samples are available through the Virtual Center for Language Acquisition (VCLA,

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