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Full Access and Age Effects in Adult Bilingualism: An Investigation of Spanish Accusative Clitics and Word Order
Silvina Montrul, Rebecca Foote, Silvia Perpiñán, Dan Thornhill, and Susana Vidal
217-228 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


This study focuses on the acquisition of accusative clitic pronouns and alternative word orders (clitic left dislocations or topicalizations) by adult L2 learners (late bilinguals) and heritage speakers (early bilinguals) of low-intermediate proficiency in Spanish. Comparison of these two populations is crucial to falsify or validate theories of L2 competence within Universal Grammar that rest on the role of age. Under the assumption that Romance clitics head their own functional projections while English lacks clitic projections, there is an important parametric difference between Spanish and English. Since object clitics and clitic left dislocations are acquired very early by Spanish-speaking children, the hypothesis tested in this study was that adult bilinguals, who received input early in childhood, should have solid knowledge of clitics and word order. By contrast, if late bilinguals have no access to Universal Grammar and cannot transfer clitic projections from English, they should be unable to acquire clitics in Spanish. Two experiments tested knowledge of clitics and word order in Spanish. Experiment 1 used a grammaticality judgment task while experiment 2 used an on-line visual picture matching task. Results of experiment 1 showed that early (n =16) and late bilinguals (n = 19) performed alike in all grammatical and ungrammatical sentences containing clitics. The early bilinguals were significantly better than the late bilinguals with sentences containing clitic left dislocations. The results of experiment 2 confirmed the superiority of early bilinguals (as measured by accuracy and reaction times) with clitic left dislocations.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 9th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium
edited by Nuria Sagarra and Almeida Jacqueline Toribio
Table of contents
Printed edition: $250.00