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Participle-object agreement in French and the theory of grammatical viruses

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Ian MacKenzie



This paper looks at the French rule of the preceding direct object from a fresh perspective, that of Virus Theory. As is well known, the rule in question perplexes foreign learners and causes difficulty to native speakers of French. At the same time it is something of a cultural shibboleth and has attracted a quite surprising degree of interest from theoretical linguists (including Chomsky). Based on an examination of the phenomenon in terms of five signature properties, the present paper proposes that the rule is in fact a grammatical virus; that is, an epiphenomenon of language pedagogy rather than a genuine component of the French grammar. From that perspective it is similar to such constructs as the English rule which, in prestige speech, converts accusative me to nominative I after the word and. Linguists should thus be wary of using the paradigm of avoir-related participle agreement for theory construction as it appears to be something of an empirical red herring.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mackenzie IE

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Romance Studies

Year: 2013

Volume: 13

Issue: 1

Pages: 19-33

Print publication date: 01/04/2013

Date deposited: 04/03/2015

ISSN (print): 1473-3536

ISSN (electronic): 1752-2331

Publisher: Berghahn Books Ltd.


DOI: 10.3167/jrs.2013.130102


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