The interaction between the French subject and object cycles

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In Colloquial French, first and second person preverbal subject pronouns function as agreement markers on the finite verb because they are obligatory and adjacent to the finite verb (e.g. von Wartburg 1943). In other spoken varieties of French, third person pronouns are also agreement markers, having lost gender and number (Fonseca-Greber 2000 for Swiss French). This paper adds new data on third person subjects for Colloquial French, namely third person emphatic pronouns being used on their own, and shows how these data fit the subject cycle. Because, like subject markers, object pronouns are preverbal, they ‘interfere’ with the preverbal subject agreement markers. Our hypothesis was therefore that preverbal object clitics would be replaced by postverbal pronouns (cf. van Gelderen 2011: 52) or would be deleted, as Lambrecht et al. (1996) had already observed. We investigated postverbal placement of object pronouns and found some evidence of this but, more interestingly, we found that object markers were reinterpreted as agreement markers. The important insights for cyclical change this paper provides are that different person markings can be at different stages, that some stages can be skipped, and that one cycle can influence another.


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