Doctoral Dissertation Research: Heritage speakers processing of the Spanish subjunctive during online comprehension.

Project: Research project

Project Details


With 48.4 million people of Hispanic origin, the U.S. is the country with the second largest number of Spanish speakers. Many of these speakers are heritage speakers of Spanish: English bilingual speakers who are raised in homes where Spanish is spoken. Past studies have characterized grammatical knowledge in the heritage language as deficient relative to grammatical knowledge in monolingual speakers of Spanish. The goal of this dissertation project is to move away from this perspective in order to better understand the grammars of heritage speakers of Spanish in the U.S. Why is this important? The home language of heritage speakers is often stigmatized. However, ample evidence suggests that maintaining the home language is important because it is the most linguistically-developed parental language and provides the best foundation for learning both a home language and a societal language. Therefore, the study of heritage languages contributes to the validation of language practices that are commonly looked down upon by the general public and the academic community.

The planned study examines a grammatical feature of Spanish that has been argued to be misused and simplified, and to display so-called 'erosion' by heritage speakers of Spanish: the Spanish subjunctive. Unlike past research that has relied on prescriptive notions of what is grammatically 'correct' and 'incorrect' in the use of the Spanish subjunctive, the experimental materials employed here will mirror spontaneously produced speech extracted from a large corpus. Two questions are addressed: (1) To what degree are heritage speakers who live in a long-standing bilingual community sensitive to the linguistic factors (lexical and structural) constraining the selection of the Spanish subjunctive?, and (2) To what degree do social factors modulate heritage speakers' sensitivity to mood selection? Data will be collected using auditory pupillometry, and changes in pupil dilation will be used an as an index of processing difficulty. Pupillometry was selected as the method of data collection because of its high ecological validity in the context of heritage speakers, whose language experience in the heritage language is mostly oral and aural. By using an appropriate methodology and by incorporating corpus data in the design of the planned experiments, the goal is to contribute to a theory of language acquisition and processing in heritage language contexts with greater explanatory adequacy.

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 date2/15/201/31/22


  • National Science Foundation: $14,821.00


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