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Open Access Publications from the University of California

L2 French Learners’ Processing of Object Clitics: Data from the Classroom

  • Author(s): Wust, Valerie
  • et al.

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The purpose of this study was to assess whether the well-documented paucity of object clitics in L2 French production reflects difficulties learners have comprehending these forms in classroom input. To this end, an aural French-English translation task was used to determine the extent to which university-level L2 learners of French (N=152) were able to process and encode the meaning of the object clitics me, te, la, l’, les, lui, leur, y and en. An analysis of the translations revealed variation in performance across clitic types (19-75% accuracy) and as a function of learners’ proficiency level and educational background. There was a positive relationship between L2 proficiency and clitic processing. Post-French immersion learners were better able to process and encode clitics than their post-core French peers. As a group, the learners were only 54% accurate, with their mistranslations of object clitics indicating incomplete use of gender, number, animacy and case markings to link these forms to their co-referents. An under-reliance on animacy and agreement cues by these L2 learners suggests the need for explicit instruction on the importance of syntactic and discourse-pragmatic information in clitic comprehension.

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