Closest conjunct agreement of attributive adjectives

TitleClosest conjunct agreement of attributive adjectives
Publication TypeArticle de revue
Année de publication2021
AuthorsAixiu, An, and Anne Abeillé
JournalJournal of French language studies
Start Page1

Contrary to most French grammars claiming that French only allows masculine agreement when mixed-gender nouns are conjoined, we show that closest conjunct agreement (CCA) does exist in contemporary French, as in other Romance languages, and is the preferred strategy for prenominal adjectives. Using data from a large corpus (FrWac) and an acceptability rating experiment, we show that (feminine) CCA is well accepted in contemporary French, and should be distinguished from attraction errors, despite the norm prescribing masculine agreement. We also show the role of the adjective position, i.e. prenominal or post-nominal, and humanness. CCA is the preferred strategy for prenominal adjectives, and non-human nouns favour CCA for post- nominal adjectives. Assuming a hierarchical structure for coordination, the closest noun is the highest in A-N order, whereas it is the lowest in N-A order. Thus CCA in prenominal position may be favoured by a shorter structural distance. One can also see CCA with a prenominal adjective as ‘early’ agreement. Regarding humanness, grammatical gender is interpreted as social gender with human nouns, and a masculine plural can refer to a mixed group. This ‘gender neutral’ plural may favour masculine agreement for human nouns, or the prescriptive norm is more influential for human nouns.