On-line relative clause attachment strategy in heritage speakers of Spanish

Jill Jegerski, Gregory D. Keating, Bill VanPatten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aims: Previous research on relative clause attachment has found that late Spanish–English bilinguals tend to parse both languages with a single strategy that is consistent with that of the language in which they are currently immersed. One recent investigation using an off-line measure has suggested that the same may not be true of early Spanish–English bilinguals, who did not show effects of greater exposure to English in the comprehension of ambiguous relative clauses (RCs). The present study sought to determine whether on-line RC attachment behavior in heritage Spanish was similarly unaffected by extensive exposure to English. Design: Forty-six monolinguals and 28 heritage speakers of Mexican Spanish participated in a self-paced reading experiment in which stimuli contained temporarily ambiguous relative clauses that were biased toward either high or low syntactic attachment. Data and analysis: Analysis of variance by subject and by item was performed on reading time data and on responses to post-stimulus comprehension questions. Findings: Statistical analyses revealed similar preferences for high attachment in Spanish among both monolinguals and heritage speakers. Originality: These results suggest that Spanish heritage speakers, as early bilinguals, may be less affected by ongoing exposure to English than the late bilinguals tested in prior studies. Significance: The outcome also suggests that, within Spanish as a heritage language, relative clause attachment may be unique compared to other aspects of sentence processing in that it shows little influence from English.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)254-268
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Heritage speakers
  • Spanish sentence processing
  • ambiguous relative clauses
  • bilingual sentence processing
  • heritage bilinguals
  • relative clause attachment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'On-line relative clause attachment strategy in heritage speakers of Spanish'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this