Spanish Heritage Language Acquisition: What Factors Influence the Use of Subjunctive in Future and Adult Heritage Speakers?

Nuñez, Raquel
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This study compared subjunctive (SUBJ) use in obligatory, early-acquired contexts among Spanish-English bilingual children in the early years of elementary school (where English is dominant language) to obligatory SUBJ use among adult heritage speakers (HSs) with a similar background to that of the children. The study examined the use of the obligatory subjunctive in Spanish HSs, who have historically shown lower rates of subjunctive use than native Spanish speakers (Silva-Corvalán 1994). 30 future HSs and 20 HSs in Texas completed an oral mood selection sentence-completion task, language background questionnaires, and language proficiency exams on their knowledge of both English and Spanish. While there was a strong positive association between Spanish proficiency and SUBJ use among the 5-6-year old future HSs, no reliable association was found between Spanish proficiency and subjunctive use among the adult HSs, as has been suggested in previous research (e.g., Montrul, 2009). Next, adult HSs used the subjunctive mood in obligatory contexts substantially more than future HSs did, suggesting that a) there may be some delay in acquisition of SUBJ in these contexts amongst the children compared to monolinguals (supporting Hoff’s (2014) research), and importantly, b) there is continued SUBJ development in the school years beyond the ages tested, even with increased English exposure and use and decreased Spanish exposure/use once entering school. Such findings point to continued development, which is not in line with the idea of attrition or incomplete acquisition (Montrul, 2009) of Spanish SUBJ from heritage speakers’ early school years into adulthood, at least not in the obligatory contexts tested. The findings displayed a strong association between the language spoken with siblings at home and the usage of SUBJ in obligatory contexts among both groups. Furthermore, no relationship was observed between formal Spanish instruction and usage of the SUBJ mood in obligatory cases, which has previously been proposed by Valdés (2005). This honors thesis especially highlights the need for further studies of heritage Spanish morphosyntax, as heritage speakers exhibit a myriad of characteristics worth explaining.

Spanish Heritage Speakers, Heritage Language Acquisition, Obligatory Subjunctive