LINGUIST List 25.392

Thu Jan 23 2014

Diss: Spanish, Polish, Language Acquisition, Syntax: Barski: 'Spanish and Polish Heritage Speakers in Canada ...'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <>

Date: 23-Jan-2014
From: Ewelina Barski <>
Subject: Spanish and Polish Heritage Speakers in Canada: The Overt Pronoun Constraint
E-mail this message to a friend

Institution: University of Western Ontario
Program: Hispanic Studies
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2013

Author: Ewelina Barski

Dissertation Title: Spanish and Polish Heritage Speakers in Canada: The Overt Pronoun Constraint

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): Polish (pol)
                            Spanish (spa)

Dissertation Director:
Joyce Bruhn de Garavito
Silvia Perpiñán

Dissertation Abstract:

This study investigates the grammar of Spanish and Polish heritage speakers
in Canada: Speakers who grew up speaking their family language at home,
where the community language is English. Studies looking at the language
of heritage speakers investigate the stability of language and how grammar
develops under reduced input conditions (Benmamoun et al., 2010). The aim
of this work is to investigate the impact of reduced input on a component
within the Null-Subject Parameter - the Overt Pronoun Constraint (OPC)
(Montalbetti, 1984). The goal is to understand the interpretations that
heritage speakers assign to overt pronouns in very specific contexts.

The OPC is a restriction on an overt pronoun’s possible coreferent. It
states the restrictions on this pronoun when its coreferent is a quantified
expression (someone, who). As null-subject languages, in Spanish and Polish
an overt pronoun in the subordinate clause cannot be bound by a quantified
expression (Nadiei cree que élj/*i va a ganar 'No one believes that he will
win'). The overt pronoun needs to be free within its binding domain.

Following Montalbetti (1984), I assume that all quantifiers will be treated
equally. Moreover, following a generative framework, it is assumed that
that the Null Subject Parameter is set early in the grammars of these
null-subject heritage languages (Chomsky, 1981; Jaeggli, 1982; Rizzi,
1982), and thus they will demonstrate understanding of the interpretative
restrictions found with subordinate overt pronouns with quantified antecedents.

Results from this study were gathered from four groups of speakers with 20
participants in each group: Spanish heritage, Spanish monolingual, Polish
heritage, Polish monolingual. Participants completed two comprehension
tasks: a Picture-Matching task, and a Sentence-Selection task. Both tasks
tested interpretation of the implicit knowledge of the OPC with quantified

Results for the Picture-Matching task show that advanced heritage speakers
understand the interpretative contrast present with overt and null pronouns
within OPC contexts. However, heritage speakers appear to have more
difficulty in the Sentence-Selection task: They do not differentiate
between null and overt pronouns. Results suggest lower-proficiency
participants have difficulty with the reading/comprehension component of
the task, but the OPC remains in their grammars.

Page Updated: 23-Jan-2014