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En Nuestra Lengua: L1 acquisition of object pronouns in Heritage Spanish-English speakers

Friday, December 3, 2010
12:00 AM
2001 LSA Building

Teresa Satterfield, University of Michigan, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures This paper investigates a unique language contact scenario involving several Spanish varieties within a Saturday morning Spanish language and literacy program in Ann Arbor. The spontaneous speech production of 75 heritage language speakers of Spanish, children ages 3-10 is examined. The population of participants includes monolingual children born in Spanish-speaking countries who are recent arrivals to the U.S. Our focus is on the occurrence of clitic pronouns in relation to Spanish morphosyntactic development in the children below the age of 7. For the purposes of this paper, we classify each speaker according to standardized language assessments. The production data represent a spectrum of clitic variations, providing a point of departure to address the lack of consensus in theoretical treatments and methodological approaches in published reports on the topic of clitic acquisition. Since many of the difficulties found in the literature manifest themselves precisely due to the different modes of acquisition investigated, the current study’s focus on child heritage speakers of Spanish is innovative, allowing us to report on a continuum of clitic patterns within a uniform setting. Preliminary observations indicate that speakers at all proficiency levels produce clitics to some degree. Moreover, there is a general preference for clitic climbing in those constructions permitting this option. The cases of divergence in the participants' grammars occur fundamentally in relation to clitic morphology (i.e. gender and number, rather than clitic syntax), along with a selective omission of clitics in restrictive discourse contexts. In the light of these tentative findings, it could be argued that child heritage speakers with Spanish as an L1 may not initially converge with monolingual peers and adult speakers in terms of clitic production, yet heritage speakers are distinct from typical L2 learners and are capable of developing target-like structures quickly, due to the opportunity for sustained interactions with other native Spanish-speakers.