Prof. Kristen Syrett in joint work with Michelle Goldin (University of Albany, SUNY) and Liliana Sanchez (University of Illinois at Chicago) recently published in Frontiers in Psychology, titled, ‘Perspective – Taking with Deictic Motion verbs in Spanish : What We Learn About Semantics and the Lexicon From Heritage Child Speakers and Adults‘. The article can be freely accessed here.
Abstract : In English, deictic verbs of motion, such as come can encode the perspective of the speaker, or another individual, such as the addressee or a narrative protagonist, at a salient reference time and location, in the form of an indexical presupposition. By contrast, Spanish has been claimed to have stricter requirements on licensing conditions for venir (“to come”), only allowing speaker perspective. An open question is how a bilingual learner acquiring both English and Spanish reconciles these diverging language-specific restrictions. We face this question head on by investigating narrative productions of young Spanish-English bilingual heritage speakers of Spanish, in comparison to English monolingual and Spanish dominant adults and children. We find that the young heritage speakers produce venir in linguistic contexts where most Spanish adult speakers do not, but where English monolingual speakers do, and also resemble those of young monolingual Spanish speakers of at least one other Spanish dialect, leading us to generate two mutually-exclusive hypotheses: (a) the encoding of speaker perspective in the young heritage children is cross-linguistically influenced by the more flexible and dominant language (English), resulting in a wider range of productions by these malleable young speakers than the Spanish grammar actually allows, or (b) the young Spanish speakers are exhibiting productions that are in fact licensed in the grammar, but which are pruned away in the adult productions, being supplanted by other forms as the lexicon is enriched. Given independent evidence of the heritage speakers’ robust Spanish linguistic competence, we turn to systematically-collected acceptability judgments of three dialectal varieties of monolingual adult Spanish speakers of the distribution of perspective-taking verbs, to assess their competence and adjudicate between (a) and (b). We find that adults accept venir in contexts in which they do not produce it, leading us to argue that (a) venir is not obligatorily speaker-oriented in Spanish, as has been claimed, (b) adults may not produce venir in these contexts because they instead select more specific motion verbs, and (c) for heritage bilingual children, the more dominant language (English) may support the grammatically licensed but lexically-constrained productions in Spanish.