Date: Sun, 17 Mar 1996 10:33:20 -0600

From: "Salikoko S. Mufwene" s-mufwene[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UCHICAGO.EDU

Subject: Re: 'going to'

In message Fri, 15 Mar 1996 22:28:00 -0500, RonButters[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] writes:

I've been meaning to write and thank you for your kind correction to my

French grammar, but I wanted to try to figure out first why I wrote what I

wrote (i.e., "Je vais a' laver mes chats" and "Je vais a' me laver les

mains," neither of which should have "a'"). Obviously, interference from

English "I am going to wash my hands," etc., would lead the native

speaker of English to assume that French also had the 'to' morpheme.


Thanks for your reaction to my correction. I doubt that there is an

exclusive explanation for the mistake. Etymological connection between the

infinitival "to" in your example and the preposition "to" in "I'm going to

church" might explain it. Your knowledge of Spanish might have contributed

to the mistake, regardless of the order in which you learn French and

Spanish. Over two decades ago I learned of "retroactive inhibition" (our

"interference") in a psychology class. But French itself may have caused the

problem if we consider constructions such as "Je viens de parler" 'I have

(just) spoken'/'I just spoke', in which "venir" retains its preposition

before the infinitive", whereas "aller" does not do so. I learn from experts

on second language acquisition that often all such factors contribute to

producing errors.

I empathize with the frustration of learning a foreign language from

textbooks (partly at the mercy of other people's perceived generalizations

and sometimes omissions?). Practice in a setting where the language is

spoken as a vernacular or common lingua franca gives a more interesting

meaning to speaking a language "idiomatically", knowing what is said in

what particular context. I wish I could avoid the term "context" but it is

all right if you interpret it broadly to include structural and non-

structural context, I suppose.




Salikoko S. Mufwene s-mufwene[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

University of Chicago 312-702-8531; FAX: 312-702-9861

Department of Linguistics

1010 East 59th Street

Chicago, IL 60637