Testing convergence via code-switching: Priming and the structure of variable subject expression

Rena Torrs Cacoullos, Catherine E. Travis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


In this study, we test the hypothesis that code-switching promotes grammatical convergence by investigating Spanish first-person singular subject (yo 'I') expression in bilingual conversations of New Mexican speakers of Spanish and English. We find that variable yo expression in New Mexican Spanish follows the same grammatical patterning as has been identified for non-contact varieties, and that this is the case regardless of the degree of bilingualism of the speakers. We observe a slightly higher rate of subject expression in the presence of code-switching; however, this is found to be attributable not to the code-switching per se, but to the presence of an English expressed first-person singular subject (I) in the preceding discourse. We interpret this as a cross-linguistic priming effect, and note that the presence of I increases the proportion of first singular subjects that occur in the context where the previous coreferential subject was expressed (be that Spanish yo or English I), an environment that favors yo expression. We conclude that, despite prolonged contact, the data do not support Spanish convergence with English in this variety, nor code-switching as a mechanism of language change. Instead, multivariate analyses indicate that cross-linguistic priming may play a role in ostensible contact-induced change by modestly raising the rate of a superficially similar construction, without accompanying changes in language-particular grammatical patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-267
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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