Written Variation among Speakers of Spanish as their First, Second and Heritage Language: The Case of the Subject Pronoun Expression
AuthorFernandez Florez, Carmen
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation revisits the variable subject pronoun expression (SPE) in Spanish from an understudied perspective: written narratives. Based on data collected among monolingual speakers (L1), second language learners (L2), and heritage language learners (HL) of Spanish, the present study aims to further our understanding of SPE’s behaviour in written language. As the breadth of the existent research indicates, the variability of subject pronoun expression (SPE) in spoken Spanish (overt vs. null) is of great interest. Recently, the span of this research has moved beyond the expression of subjects among native speakers (e.g. Lastra & Martín Butragueño, 2015; Michnowicz, 2015) to explore its behaviour among L2 learners (Geeslin et al., 2013, 2015; Linford, 2016), and HL (Bessett, 2017; Cacoullos & Travis, 2015). While SPE varies in terms of overall rates of expression across Spanish dialects, a similar underlying grammar has been found to predict its behavior. Variationist research on SPE among L1 speakers of Spanish has identified factors such as tense, mood, and aspect (TMA) of the verb, TMA continuity, switch reference, as well as person and number of the referent as key predictors of its realization (Carvalho et al., 2015, p. x-xi). The current study explores whether these underlying patterns are also found in written narratives, a register that is different from spoken language (Biber & Conrad, 2009). A total of 216 essays narrating past events were collected among L1, L2, and HL participants (45 compositions in each group), resulting in a total of 5,075 tokens of 1st person SPE. Due to the heterogeneity in proficiency levels that is usually found in L2 and HL classrooms, the compositions were analyzed based on accuracy levels represented by three parameters: morphological, syntactical, and lexical accuracy. Each participant was then regrouped and classified as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. The analysis revealed that written and spoken SPE behave similarly in terms of the linguistic predictors that impact pronominal usage among L1 speakers. In addition, it was possible to identify a gradual acquisition of this variable among L2 and HL learners across accuracy levels. Finally, the results clearly show that written production triggers fewer overt subject pronouns and experiences a desensitization to switch-reference contexts when compared to spoken language. By bridging the fields of second language acquisition and sociolinguistic variation, this research deepens our understanding about L1 variation in written language and sheds light on the differences among L2 and HL learners across accuracy levels.
Degree ProgramGraduate College