SUBJECT PRONOUN DISTRIBUTION IN CHILD HERITAGE SPEAKERS OF SPANISH: SEMANTIC CONSTRAINTS REGULATING OVERT/NULL PRONOUNS IN FOCUS/TOPIC ENVIRONMENTS
The present study aims to examine the grammar of Spanish heritage children in relation to the syntax-discourse interface by analyzing the distribution of subject pronouns in focus and topic contexts. Focus and topic are related to the information structure of a clause, the former refers to new information of the sentence and the latter indicates old or known information (Lozano-Pozo, 2003). Studies exploring this phenomenon in various combinations of languages and L2 populations have found a clear overextension and overuse of overt subject pronouns in topic contexts in pro-drop languages, where the preferred option is the null pronoun, due to cross-linguistic influence from the L1 (Pérez-Leroux & Glass, 1999; Tsimpli & Sorace, 2006; Belletti et al., 2007; Sorace et al., 2009). Considering the results of previous research, this study examines the extent to which Spanish heritage speakers exhibit knowledge of subject pronoun distribution in focus and topic contexts by comparing them to their monolingual counterparts.
Thirteen child heritage speakers of Spanish and twenty-seven monolingual children completed a structured elicitation task which consisted of a story followed by a question asking about an embedded subject (Focus condition) or an embedded direct object (Topic condition). Results revealed no overextension of overt subject pronouns in topic contexts due to cross-linguistic influence from English. However, differences were found in the focus condition. Heritage children diverged from the monolingual group since they produced considerably fewer instances of overt subject pronouns. It is hypothesized that heritage children are opting for the null pronoun option as the default option, which suggests they are prolonging the Null Subject Stage (Hyams, 1986). This finding points to protracted development due to a lack of activation of the language. Further findings are discussed taking into consideration current approaches that examine the effects of language dominance, exposure, and use.
- Master of Arts
- West Lafayette