The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

ESSL/LacqLab 2/29 - Zuzanna Fuchs

Speaker: Zuzanna Fuchs (Harvard)
Joint work with Gregory Scontras (Stanford) and Maria Polinsky (UMaryland)
Date and time: Monday, February 29, from 1:00 to 2:00 PM
Place: 32-D831

At some point in their childhood, heritage speakers shift from their first acquired language to their second language — the language of their community — that becomes their new dominant language. For heritage speaker, language comprehension and production in the non-dominant L1 is therefore difficult and costly, and thus the grammar of this L1 may be somewhat different than the baseline native grammar, shaped by principles of economy that make comprehension and production tasks easier. In this talk, we consider number and gender agreement in Heritage Spanish, in order to determine whether difficulties with agreement morphology observed in heritage speakers (Benmamoun et al. 2013, and references therein) reflect any underlying differences in how number and gender are represented in the grammar of Heritage Spanish. We put number and gender features into conflict with each other through agreement attraction, and observe how errors in agreement are perceived in a language comprehension task, replicating the methodology from Fuchs et al. (2015). The results indicate that number and gender in Heritage Spanish are bundled, unlike in the native grammar in which they are split. Thus, we identify an instance of divergence in grammar, which provides evidence that not all surface differences between native and heritage grammars can be ascribed to principles of economy of processing — representational economy also plays a role in shaping heritage grammars.