Oral cues improve subject‐verb agreement in written French

Michel Fayol, Pierre Largy
Published Online:
14 Oct 2010
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 36 Issue 2

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The aim of this study was to test the impact of an audible marker on the production of subject‐verb agreements. Earlier studies have shown that educated French‐speaking adults make subject‐verb agreement errors when writing as soon as a secondary task demands their attention. One hypothesis is that these errors occur primarily because in French many of the written inflections of the verbal plural are silent. However, errors of the same type have been reported in spoken English: in configurations such as “the dog of the neighbours arrive(s)”, arrive agrees with the noun closest to the verb rather than with the subject. The current experiment compares the production of subject‐verb agreements in written French depending on whether the singular/plural opposition is audible (finit/finissent) or not (chante/chantent). After having changed the tense of the verb, adult subjects had to recall, in writing, sentences which had been read aloud to them and which shared the same start (La flamme de la bougie = the flame of the candle) but contained different verbs matched for semantic plausibility and frequency, and either possessing (éblouir = to blind) or not possessing (éclairer = to illuminate) an audible singular/plural opposition. The results show that the presence of an audible marker reduces the error frequency and makes the agreement easier to manage. A chronometric study suggests that it is the competition between concurrent markers (e.g., ‐e, ‐s, ‐ent) that causes difficulties with regular verbs and that this competition is resolved at the very last moment, at the point when the marker is transcribed.

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