Doctoral Dissertation Research: Acquisition of grammatical variation: Differential object marking in heritage speakers

Project: Research project

Project Details


According to the Census Bureau, more than 41 million people in the US speak Spanish at home. It is important to understand how the growing number of US children who are raised speaking Spanish at home come to acquire and use language as adults. The goal of this project is to explore the use of a variable grammatical form in bilingual adults who were raised in the US speaking Spanish at home and English in school; these bilingual adults are also known as 'heritage speakers'. Examining variable patterns leads to a more comprehensive understanding of bilingual language acquisition in the US context. Disseminating the findings from this project through both scientific and public channels helps researchers and educators to develop more effective educational strategies and improves speech-language pathologists' ability to assess language abilities in clinical settings.

Previous studies have shown that heritage speakers demonstrate significant variability in their use of grammatical forms. This variability can be traced to language-specific factors as well as aspects of an individual's language experience. While variable grammatical patterns appear across languages and speech communities, these patterns are rarely studied in heritage speakers. This project uses a sentence repetition task with heritage language speakers and monolinguals to examine the trade-off between competing influences on the distribution of differential object marking (DOM), a phenomenon found in a number of languages where certain objects in a sentence are accompanied by a prefix/suffix, preposition, or other marker. The project addresses the following questions: (1) How do heritage speakers acquire variable grammatical patterns such as DOM? (2) What are the linguistic and extralinguistic factors that constrain heritage speakers' use of variable patterns? (3) How does variable usage change across generations of bilingual speakers? This novel approach combining the study of variation, language acquisition, and cross-generational heritage speakers has significant potential to contribute to our understanding of bilingualism and language acquisition.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date3/1/228/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $15,471.00


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