LINGUIST List 30.4225

Thu Nov 07 2019

Review: Spanish; Romance; Historical Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Orozco (2018)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 15-Aug-2019
From: Natalie Operstein <>
Subject: Spanish in Colombia and New York City
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Rafael Orozco
TITLE: Spanish in Colombia and New York City
SUBTITLE: Language contact meets dialectal convergence
SERIES TITLE: IMPACT: Studies in Language and Society 46
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2018

REVIEWER: Natalie Operstein,

“Spanish in Colombia and New York City: Language Contact Meets Dialectal Convergence” by Rafael Orozco pursues both empirical and theoretical goals. The book’s main empirical goal is to contribute to sociolinguistic investigation of Colombian Spanish as spoken in Colombia and the U.S. Its main theoretical goal is to ascertain whether the linguistic and social constraints on the selection of sociolinguistic variants are the same across different subsets of a language community. In terms of its specific focus, the study compares the behavior of three morphosyntactic variables – the expression of the future, that of nominal possession, and that of personal pronoun subjects – in (costeño) Colombian Spanish as spoken in Barranquilla, Colombia, on the one hand, and the expatriate Colombian community residing in New York City, on the other. The book is introduced by a preface by Gregory R. Guy, and is apportioned into six chapters.


Chapter 1, “Introduction”, sets the scene by introducing the dialect regions of Colombian Spanish, paying particular attention to differences between the costeño (coastal) and cachaco (interior highland) macrodialects, followed by brief overviews of published dialectological and sociolinguistic literature on Colombian Spanish and an outline of the salient features of NYC Spanish. The introduction also provides a description of the linguistic corpora used, an outline of the hypotheses and research questions, and a layout of the book. The datasets that serve as the basis for the study consist of sociolinguistic conversations with 25 residents of Barranquilla, Colombia whose ages ranged between 15 and 85 at the time of the interviews, and with 20 Colombian residents of New York City, 17 of them from Barranquilla, whose ages at the time of the interviews varied between 16 and 78 and who differed with respect to their age at the time of arrival in the U.S. and their English proficiency.

Chapters 2 through 4 are thematically united by their shared focus on the structural features that condition the distribution of the variants (the “linguistic predictors”) and their overarching finding that, notwithstanding the consequences of language and dialect contact that obtain in New York City, the linguistic predictors remain the same, and their effects the same or similar, in the Barranquilla and NYC Colombian communities.

Chapter 2, “The expression of futurity”, looks at the distribution of three ways of expressing the future: morphological future, periphrastic future, and present indicative (exemplified in 1a through 1c, respectively).

(1a) c a n t a r é “I will sing”

(1b) v o y a c a n t a r “I am going to sing”

(1c) c a n t o “I [will] sing”

Of the three variants, periphrastic future is found to be the most, and morphological future the least, frequent in both Barranquilla and NYC; this result agrees with the findings reported from most other areas of the Hispanic world (p. 30). Comparing the two corpora, morphological future and simple present both have lower frequency, and periphrastic future higher frequency, in NYC than in Barranquilla (p. 35). The rise in the frequency of periphrastic future in NYC Colombian Spanish is attributed to its contact and convergence “with the Puerto-Rican-dominated Spanish of New York City” (p. 36).

The occurrence of each future variant is found to be correlated with a number of structural features at the clause, subject, and predicate levels. For example, in both communities longer statements as well as negative and interrogative statements favor the occurrence of the periphrastic future variant, non-human subjects favor the morphological future variant, and the presence of temporal adverbs favors the present tense variant. The linguistic predictors are found to be the same, and their effects the same or similar, in the two communities.

Chapter 3, “The expression of nominal possession”, looks at the distribution of three ways of expressing nominal possession, by means of possessive adjectives, definite articles, and periphrastic possessive constructions (exemplified in 2a through 2d). The periphrastic construction illustrated in (2d) is used with first and second person singular possessors and the one seen in (2c) is used with other persons. The analytic way of expressing possession is the most recent one historically; its emergence is attributed to the twin impact of replacement of the second person plural possessive adjective v u e s t r o “your (pl.)” with the analytic d e u s t e d e s “of you (pl.)” and the need to disambiguate the multiple meanings of s u “his, her, its, their, your” (p. 64).

(2a) s u c a s a “his house”

(2b) l a c a s a “the [his] house”

(2c) l a c a s a d e é l “his house”

(2d) l a c a s a m í a “my house”

While the construction with the definite article was used with similar frequencies in the two communities, possessive adjectives had a lower frequency and periphrastic possessives a higher frequency of use in NYC as compared to Barranquilla (p. 68). The linguistic predictors were found to be the same in both communities, and had similar though not identical effects on the distribution of the variants. For example, it was found that the presence of an overt referent favors the definite article variant, that location of the possessive noun phrase in an object position promotes possessive adjectives, and that the choice of the possessive variant is influenced by the semantic category of the possessed noun (e.g., definite articles are favored by nouns that name body parts [l a n a r i z “the [his] nose”] and possessive adjectives are favored by nouns that name parents [m i p a p á “my dad”]).

Chapter 4, “Variable subject personal pronoun expression”, examines variation in the rates of use of overt and null pronominal subjects. Although the overall overt pronominal rate was found to be much higher in NYC (43.3%) than in Barranquilla (34.3%) (the result attributed, at least in part, to contact with English), the linguistic conditioning of this variable was found to be the same in the two communities. Among other linguistic factors, the use of overt subject pronouns was found to be favored by subjects in the singular, by verbs in the imperfect indicative, and by a complete change in subject.

Chapter 5, “Effects of social predictors”, considers the effects of social conditioning upon each of the three variables. Unlike linguistic predictors, social predictors were found to exert non-uniform and in some cases opposite effects in the two communities. Among the most interesting findings are age- and gender-related differences in the use of the future variants, such as the gender role reversal that has taken place in the diasporic setting: while morphological future was found to be favored by women and disfavored by men in Barranquilla, the opposite tendency obtained in NYC. In addition, it was found that New York Colombian women promote periphrastic future while men disfavor it (pp. 128-129).

Chapter 6, “Conclusions”, recapitulates the main findings and discusses their broader implications.


Although focusing on three specific structural features in two geographically circumscribed sub-communities of a single language, “Spanish in Colombia and New York City” has theoretical relevance that goes beyond its narrow focus, contributing empirical data and theoretical insights to a number of current debates in linguistics. Throughout the study, the author makes a sustained effort to connect the changes under investigation to parallel developments and / or evolutionary trends in other domains of the Spanish grammar, in other areas of the Hispanic world, in Romance languages as a whole, and cross-linguistically.

A partial listing of the broader issues that the study engages with, touches upon, or mentions in passing includes the impact of contact and bilingualism on acceleration and inhibition of in-progress language change (Silva-Corvalán 1986; Enrique-Arias 2010), particularly contact-induced change in the frequency of occurrence of morphosyntactic variants (Johanson 2002); cyclical diachronic alternation between synthetic and analytic means of expression in the nominal and verbal morphosyntax of Romance languages (Schwegler 1990); preference for analytic over synthetic forms in certain types of contact situations; evolution of Spanish from a pro-drop to a non-pro-drop language, with parallels elsewhere in the Romance domain; the use of overt subject pronoun rates as a diagnostic of dialectal divisions within Spanish; grammaticalization of analytic paradigms and the dynamics of grammaticalization in closely related languages; the competing effects of dialect and language contact on diasporic Spanish-speaking communities; the differing impact of different age and gender groups on linguistic retentions and innovations; and the use of acceleration of language change in emigrant communities to predict and anticipate linguistic change in the communities of origin. A number of the issues addressed in the book are surveyed and introduced through useful overviews of the pertinent literature.

This dynamic, thoughtful, and thought-provoking study will no doubt be of interest to a broad spectrum of scholars and students of Spanish, Romance, and general linguistics.


Enrique-Arias, Andrés. 2010. On language contact as an inhibitor of language change: the Spanish of Catalan bilinguals in Majorca. In Anne Breitbarth, Christopher Lucas, Sheila Watts and David Willis (eds), Continuity and Change in Grammar, 97-118. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Johanson, Lars. 2002. Contact-induced change in a code-copying framework. In Mari C. Jones and Edith Esch (eds), Language Change: The Interplay of Internal, External and Extra-Linguistic Factors, 285-313. Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Schwegler, Armin. 1990. Analyticity and Syntheticity: A Diachronic Perspective with
Special Reference to Romance Languages. Berlin / New York: Mouton De Gruyter.

Silva-Corvalán, Carmen. 1986. Bilingualism and language change: the extension of estar in Los Angeles Spanish. Language 62: 587-608.


Natalie Operstein is the author of ''Consonant Structure and Prevocalization'' (2010) and ''Zaniza Zapotec'' (2015) and co-editor of ''Valence Changes in Zapotec: Synchrony, Diachrony, Typology'' (2015) and ''Language Contact and Change in Mesoamerica and Beyond'' (2017). Her research interests center on language change, phonology and language contact.

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