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Review of  Inquiries in Hispanic Linguistics

Reviewer: John M. Ryan
Book Title: Inquiries in Hispanic Linguistics
Book Author: Alejandro Cuza Lori Czerwionka Daniel Olson
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 28.4123

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REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


According to the book’s editors, the purpose of “Inquiries in Hispanic Linguistics” (hereafter “Inquiries”) is to present eighteen peer-reviewed articles, both theoretical and empirical, that are representative of: 1) the quality of papers delivered at the 18th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium which took place at Purdue University in November of 2014; and 2) the scope of research currently conducted in the area of Hispanic linguistics. As an edited compilation, the book’s introduction organizes its eighteen essays into three broad areas of Hispanic linguistics, and in the following order: 1) syntax and semantics, 2) phonetics/phonology and related interfaces; and 3) language contact and variation.

The first category of syntax and semantics includes seven papers, summarized as follows:

The first paper of this section by José Camacho titled “Towards a theory of assertion structure: Higher and lower focus in Colombian Spanish” demonstrates that the difference between narrow and broad focus found in two structures of Colombian Spanish can be adequately explained by syntactic analysis, the first being a lower copular verb that can only merge below tense because of c-command requirements, and a higher expletive which can only merge above tense. The second paper by Grant Armstrong and titled “Towards a theory of pronominal verb constructions in Spanish” argues for a common explanation for the appearance of the clitic ‘se’ in all three unaccusative, unergative, and transitive pronominal verb constructions, claiming that all three pronominal verb types select a defective head which in Spanish produces [∅] and post syntactically is filled by ‘se.’ Appearing third in this section of papers is a psycholinguistic study by Joshua Frank titled “On the grammaticality of recomplementation in Spanish,” offering a processing-based account as contrasted with accepted grammatical-based accounts, to help explain the difference in grammaticality judgments for this structure in English and Spanish.

The section continues with a fourth paper by Laura Domínguez and Glyn Hicks, titled “Synchronic change in a multidialectal Spanish community: Evidence from null and postverbal subjects,” and provides what the authors assert is a necessary minimalist account for the case of L1 morphosyntactic attrition exhibited in the realization of null and postverbal subjects by speakers in two bilingual Spanish-English communities, Cubans in Miami and Spaniards in an unspecified location in the UK. The authors suggest that changes in these structures are due to changes in lexical features within functional categories. Using conversational data from Spanish and English, the fifth paper in this section by Jonathan Steuck is titled “Exploring the syntax-semantics-prosody interface: Complement clauses in conversation” and investigates the relationship between a prosodic unit, namely, the IU (intonation unit), and whether matrix and complement clauses occur within the same or different IUs. Among the author’s conclusions are that both matrix and complement clauses occur in the same IU more than two thirds of the time. However, intervening syntactic material between the verb of the matrix clause and the complement clause favors the occurrence of the complement clause in a different IU. The sixth paper in this section by Ramón Padilla-Reyes, Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach and Melvin González-Rivera and titled “Generalized gradability and extremeness in Puerto Rican Spanish” seeks to provide a unified semantic account of the expression of extremeness in Puerto Rican Spanish among sentences, adverbs, adjectives and lexicalized phrases. The authors do this by mapping extremeness along several contextually-dependent dimensions. Bringing the first section of papers to a close is a study by Elizabeth Gielau titled “On the mistaken identity of negated epistemics” which examines the relationship between negated epistemic predicates to other types of negated predicates or emotive predicates in Spanish. The author demonstrates how all three predicate types share many of the same properties.

The second general category of papers in the book has to do with phonetics and phonology and their impact on a variety of other linguistic areas. The first paper of this section by Laura Colantoni is titled “The ‘mestizo’ speech: Participant selection and task choice in L2 speech.” Drawing upon acquisition research on intonation, Colantoni shifts the focus of the book to methodology, demonstrating the importance of including a variety of otherwise understudied second language populations, particularly at the participant recruitment stage. The author signals the particular impact that alphabetic writing in Western societies has on reading and writing skills in L2 and bilingual speech. The second paper of this section by Gabrielle Klassen and Matthew Patience is titled “Stressed clitics in Argentine Spanish: Which way does the clitic lean?” and revisits the question of stressed clitics against a previous proposal by Colantoni and Cuervo (2013) that stressed clitics can either function as affixes or independent words. Comparing duration, pitch and intensity of verbs followed by stressed clitics to those followed by stressed words and affixes, the authors find that clitics function more like stressed affixes and conclude that clitics are becoming more word internal. The third paper in this section on phonology titled “On the simplification of a prosodic inventory: The Afro-Bolivian Spanish case” examines the prosodic inventory of Afro Bolivian Spanish declarative sentences. Authors Sandro Sessarego and Rajiv Rao demonstrate a reduced inventory of targets for pitch accents and boundary tones in declarative sentences for this variety of Spanish as compared to others, suggesting this phenomenon to be the result of what they call a “conventionalized advanced second language acquisition process.” The fourth paper of this section by Miguel García, titled “Segmental anchoring in Peruvian Amazonian Spanish intonation,” explores intonation of Peruvian Amazonian Spanish and conducts analyses of both segmental and suprasegmental phenomena, concluding that tonal alignment is consistent within the stressed vowel.

The fourth paper in this section by Brendan Regan, titled “The prosody-pragmatics interface in the pragmaticalization of ‘!Hombre!’ as a discourse marker” combines both qualitative discourse analysis and a quantitative phonetic analysis of the use of “hombre” in Andalusian Spanish as a discourse marker. The author demonstrates that different prosodic cues are what determine the different pragmatic uses of “hombre” in this variety of Spanish. The last chapter in this section by Gibran Delgado-Díaz and Iraida Galarza, titled “Sociolinguistic implications on perception: The case of the posterior /r/ in Puerto Rican Spanish,” evaluates the perception of posterior /r/ in Puerto Rican Spanish. The authors find that the variables that impact perception of /r/ and /h/ are age and sex of the speaker, as well as phonological context.

The third and final section of the book consists of five chapters on the topic of Spanish language contact and variation. The first of these papers by Terrell A. Morgan and Scott A. Schwenter, titled “Vosotros, ustedes, and the myth of the symmetrical Castilian pronoun system,” starts the section off with an examination of the subject pronominal system in Castilian Spanish, ultimately showing the asymmetry of this system, particularly in the plural form of address, asserting that ‘vosotros’ is the only productive second person form for many Castilian Spanish speakers, despite the degree of formality. The second paper of this section by Ashlee Dauphinais Civitello and Luis A. Ortiz-López, titled “Microvariation in the Null Subject Parameter: Word order in Cuban Spanish” takes the reader to Spanish speakers of Havana, Cuba with an analysis of subject-verb word order, finding almost invariable SV word order with first and second subject pronouns and no correlation between word order and verb type. Moving southward to Argentina, the third paper of this section by Muriel Gallego is titled “An analysis of subjunctive frequency and the semantic predictors of mood in Central Argentinian Spanish.” The paper investigates the use of subjunctive versus indicative moods in terms of both social and semantic variables and finds there to be significant differences between age groups.

The fourth paper in this section breaks from the synchronic nature of the first three with Danielle Daidone and Sarah Zahler’s “The future is in the past: A diachronic analysis of the variable future-in-the past expression in Spanish.” The paper examines the evolution of future-in-the past constructions such as the conditional (e.g., ‘iría’ ‘would go’) and periphrasis of imperfect ‘go’ (e.g., ‘iba a ir’ ‘was going to go’) with data spanning 1580 to 2004. The authors find evidence in both their data and others’ for a shift over time from the synthetic future to the periphrastic. The last contribution of both this section and the volume, by Miguel Rodríguez-Mondoñedo and Stephen Fafulas, and titled “Double possession in Peruvian Amazonian Spanish,” returns to the variationist topic, this time turning attention to the use of double possession (e.g., ‘mi nombre de mí’ ‘my name of me’) in Peruvian Amazonian Spanish. In this chapter, the authors evaluate this construction in terms of the theories of language contact, naturalistic interlanguage development, or parametric restructuring.


From an organizational perspective, the eighteen papers which comprise nearly 400 pages of text, follow a relatively loose order according to three overarching topics, as specified in the Introduction and outlined in the summary section of this review. Interestingly, the book’s Table of Contents does not reflect this proposed subcategorization; it simply lists all eighteen papers without any further division into such sections. This lack of book sections in the Table of Contents, particularly within a book of this size and depth, makes it a challenge to navigate relevant material without always returning to the Introduction and skimming it for what one is interested in. Even in the previous volume (Klassen, Liceras, & Valenzuela, 2015), the divisions specified in its introduction are maintained in the Table of Contents.

An additional criticism of the collection in organizational terms is the failure of the introductory chapter to connect the wide range of topics covered throughout the volume. This is a significant part of any edited volume and it is typically penned by editors not only to organize the material within a book of this size, but it should also provide the rationale for inclusion and interconnectedness of each chapter. As it stands, the reader is left with an introduction of less than three pages and a two-page table of contents. It is argued here that both the lack of adequate organization of its eighteen contributions and a short introductory organizational chapter hamper the accessibility of the material.

Despite the organizational limitations mentioned above, ‘Inquiries’ offers value to all researchers in the field, whether inside or outside the classroom, and whatever the methodological framework to which they subscribe. This is especially true in terms of both the breadth of topical areas that it covers and the range of Spanish language varieties examined. As for content, the volume includes papers at all linguistic structural levels of phonology, morphology and syntax, methodology, and both theoretical, and empirical analysis. In terms of Spanish language varieties, ‘Inquiries’ offers data-driven work on Peninsular, Caribbean, South American, as well as United States Spanish. Figuring among these are studies of less common dialects such as Peruvian Amazonian Spanish (Rodríguez-Mondoñedo & Fafulas). Also, in addition to the synchronic perspective, the book also includes a chapter on historical variation (Daidone and Zahler).

This book is the second of two publications from the Hispanic Linguistics Symposium series that has recently begun to be published under the Benjamins Series, Issues in Hispanic and Lusophone Linguistics. This deviates from the original publishing platform utilized for the first sixteen volumes of the series, all appearing together at the Cascadilla Proceedings website ( as part of the larger Cascadilla Proceedings Project. It is worth pointing out that since the change in publisher, the series has witnessed a significant drop in the number of papers published per volume, with only sixteen papers published from the 17th symposium (Klassen, Liceras, & Valenzuela, 2015) and eighteen from the 18th symposium (this volume). In sharp contrast, during its former life with Cascadilla, the series might issue in one year as many as twenty-nine (Ortiz-López, 2009) or thirty (Sagarra & Toribio, 2006) papers in a given volume. The Cascadilla proceedings platform seemed to work extremely well for this series in terms of accessibility and ease of use by researchers, as it was and continues to be free to the public.

In some respects, the volume’s detail would make it ideal required reading for a graduate course in Spanish linguistics. On the other hand, with the guidance of an instructor, the volume could also be appropriate as additional assigned reading of selected chapters for students of similar courses at the undergraduate level. Finally, the book may also serve as introductory reading for students undertaking special projects across a wide range of topical areas in Spanish linguistics, as well as further direct them to more in-depth sources beyond the book itself.


Colantoni, L. and Cuervo, M.C. (2013). “Clíticos acentuados.” In L. Colantoni & C. Rodríguez Louro (Eds.). “Perspectivas teóricas y experimentales sobre el español de la Argentina” (pp. 143-158). Madrid & Frankfurt: Iberoamericana & Vervuert.

Klassen, Rachel, Liceras Juana M., and Elena Valenzuela, (2015). “Hispanic Linguistics at the Crossroads: Theoretical linguistics, language acquisition and language contact. Proceedings of the Hispanic Linguistics Symposium 2013.”

Ortiz-López, Luis A. (Ed.) (2009). “Selected Proceedings of the 13th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium.” Cascadilla Proceedings Project. Somerville: MA

Sagarra, Nuria and Almeida Jacqueline Toribio, Eds. (2006). “Selected Proceedings of the 9th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium.” Cascadilla Proceedings Project. Somerville: MA
John M. Ryan is Associate Professor of Spanish Linguistics at the University of Northern Colorado. His work on first and second language acquisition includes articles published in JCLAD, Hispania, and Theory and Practice in Language Studies. Also, recent work in historical linguistics and discourse analysis has appeared in several edited volumes. He is currently working on a project that examines early transitional structures of Proto Ibero Romance.