On the bilingual competence of Spanish heritage speakers: Syntax, lexical-semantics and processing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This study investigates the bilingual competence of adult simultaneous Spanish-English bilinguals living in the U.S. whose perceived weaker language is Spanish, and who are typically considered cases of language loss or incomplete acquisition. Potential Spanish language loss was assessed with respect to the grammar of monolingual Spanish speakers and with respect to the bilinguals' own competence in English, their perceived stronger language. The bilinguals took proficiency tests in Spanish and English. Four experiments tested the bilinguals' lexicosemantic and syntactic competence in Spanish and English. Experiments 1 and 2 used a Grammaticality Judgment Task in English and in Spanish to test syntactic and semantic aspects of unaccusative and unergative verbs, while Experiments 3 and 4 used an on-line visual probe recognition task to test semantic and syntactic aspects of these verbs in English and Spanish during sentence processing. Results of the linguistic and psycholinguistic measures show that despite self-perceptions and performance in the proficiency tests, the Spanish-English bilinguals were quite balanced in the two languages, and displayed robust knowledge of the syntactic effects of unaccusativity in English and Spanish. Variation from monolingual speakers was noticeable with the semantic classification of some verbs along the unaccusativity continuum (Sorace, 2000) as revealed in the Spanish tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-69
Number of pages33
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2006

Keywords

  • Spanish
  • bilingual competence
  • lexical-semantics
  • processing
  • syntax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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