Cross-linguistic variation and the acquisition of pronominal reference in l2 spanish

Jill Jegerski, Bill VanPatten, Gregory D. Keating

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current investigation tested two predictions regarding second language (L2) processing at the syntax-discourse interface: (1) that L2 performance on measures of interface phenomena can differ from that of native speakers; and (2) that cross-linguistic influence can be a source of such divergence. Specifically, we examined the offline interpretation of ambiguous subject pronouns with intrasentential antecedents in Spanish and English, including discourse-syntactic constraints that are active in pro-drop Spanish and principles of discourse structure that affect pronominal reference in English. Two participant groups of English-speaking learners of L2 Spanish - an intermediate group and an advanced group - failed to show categorically native-like differentiation between null and overt pronouns in Spanish. Both groups, however, did show marginal effects for Discourse Structure (coordination or subordination of clauses), an effect that was also present in their native English. Furthermore, there was a significant interaction with the advanced group between Pronoun and Discourse Structure, so this group seemed to employ to a certain degree a hybrid strategy. This outcome suggests that pre-existing referential strategy persists even at an advanced level of L2 proficiency and may be a primary barrier to native-like performance, even after target-like L2 principles are acquired and begin to apply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)481-507
Number of pages27
JournalSecond Language Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • first language influence
  • non-native Spanish
  • null subjects
  • pronominal reference
  • pronoun interpretation
  • sentence comprehension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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