March 24, 2023
9:00 am


PSUxLing Presentations
Friday, March 24, 9:00–10:30 a.m. EST, 127 Moore Building and virtually via Zoom

“Can Child Language Acquisition Help Us Understand Adult Heritage Grammars and Language Evolution?"

Pablo Requena, Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at The University of Texas at San Antonio

This presentation will illustrate ways in which language acquisition could help us answer tough questions about adult grammars. Pablo Requena will report on two studies in progress about child acquisition of the Spanish Subjunctive mood. Among many other uses, the Subjunctive mood can convey that an action is desired, or that an event to which the speaker reacts is presupposed, for example. It takes children a long time to acquire the different uses of the Subjunctive mood, which means that some uses are mastered before the beginning of formal education, while more complex uses are mastered by the end of the elementary school years. This observation is consequential because not all Spanish-speaking children use Spanish at school (as is the case with many child heritage speakers of Spanish in the U.S.), but also because formal education has traditionally exerted high pressure in favor of some linguistic forms over others. The timing of acquisition of particular Subjunctive uses coupled with information about the sociolinguistic and sociohistorical context can shed light on why certain uses are more vulnerable than others and why adult grammars are the way they are. In Study 1, Pablo will report on how some child heritage speakers of Spanish living in Texas encounter difficulty using the Subjunctive in complex structures typically mastered at a time when their exposure to the Spanish is reduced as a result of receiving formal education in English. The study shows, however, that some children do succeed in learning Subjunctive even in these complex contexts, which highlights the importance of each individual’s experience with language. In Study 2, Pablo will report on how the timing of acquisition of two uses of the Spanish Subjunctive coupled with sociohistorical circumstances could explain the semantic split between voseo and tuteo 2sg Subjunctive forms (for deontic vs. epistemic contexts, respectively) in the evolution of Rioplatense Spanish. It is proposed that with the spread of free and mandatory education in Argentina and Uruguay, between 1877-1882, the prescriptive forces of schooling could have contributed to stopping the advance of voseo forms towards the late-acquired epistemic Subjunctive contexts. The presentation ends encouraging further interaction between child language acquisition and other sub-fields of linguistic research.


“Lleísmo Variation in Misiones, Argentina?"

Colleen Balukas, Assistant Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Linguistics at the University at Buffalo

This presentation explores the realization of the palatal consonants /ʎ/and /j/ by Spanish-Portuguese bilingual speakers in Misiones Province, Argentina. In the majority of Spanish-speaking regions, the two sounds have either merged or are in the process of merging into a single phonemic category. The phenomenon, referred to as yeísmo, results in a lack of distinction between words like malla and maya. However, some areas of the Spanish-speaking world maintain the distinction (lleísmo), including – by most accounts – in the Misiones Province of northeastern Argentina.

Using naturalistic language data from a corpus of picture descriptions and sociolinguistic interviews conducted with 41 speakers, the following questions are asked: To what extent do Misionero Spanish-Portuguese bilinguals continue to maintain lleísmo-type distinctions? What are the patterns of phonetic variability that emerge for each phoneme? And to what extent do speakers assign social meaning to lleísmo and yeísmo?

Preliminary analysis suggests that most speakers in the corpus do indeed maintain distinct pronunciations of /ʎ/ and /j/, but that the precise phonetic realization of the two phonemes is somewhat variable across speakers. Further, metalinguistic comments made on topics like the formal education system in the province and comparisons with prestige varieties (like Ríoplatense Spanish) reveal that lleísmo carries value as a regionally distinctive feature that rises to the level of conscious awareness for speakers.