Interlanguage Variability In The Use Of French Auxiliary Verbs By Low-Proficiency Learners Of French In Kenya
This paper set out to identify the variants of the rules governing the choice of the auxiliary (whether avoir, ‘to have’ or être, ‘to be’) in the passé composé tense in the French of low-proficiency learners in Kenya. Data were collected from twenty-three compositions written by students from three different levels (i.e. 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year) of proficiency in French as a foreign language in Kenya. A frequency analysis approach was used to establish which variant of the rule the learners used to select, or to avoid selecting, either avoir or être as the appropriate auxiliary. The key observations made by the paper are the following: the learners from the lowest level of proficiency (i.e. the Form-2 students) virtually only used, and “correctly”, the auxiliary avoir. However, their apparent correct uses of this auxiliary can in fact be best analysed as being merely formulaic sequences memorised from earlier lessons. On the other hand, in the majority of cases their higher-level counterparts (the Form-3 and Form-4 students) avoided the use of an auxiliary altogether, while in the minority of cases where they did use one, this tended to be être, which in most cases was wrongly used for avoir. Overall, these observations point to a picture of the U-shaped learning that has been reported in language acquisition.
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