In general Spanish, references to nonspecific third-person plurals (e.g., 'they called from the bank') are usually made with subject personal pronouns (henceforth SPPs) in their null form, as in llamaron del banco, 'called from the bank.' The literature mistakenly presents the use of null SPPs in these nonspecific 3pl contexts as resulting from a categorical syntactic rule. In fact, this usage is the product of a strong pragmatic tendency: overt nonspecific ellos are rare, not ungrammatical. Nonspecific 3pl NPs do occasionally appear with overt SPPs, as in ellos llamaron del banco, 'they called from the bank.' Among bilinguals in New York City whose exposure to English is deep, this use of overt nonspecific ellos is even more frequent than in other areas. The study presented in this paper is based on sociolinguistic interviews with 123 informants. A total of 7,660 verbs in 3pl form were considered, of which 2,490 made nonspecific reference and were selected for the study. On the basis of strong empirical analysis, the study reaffirms the importance of fully understanding the pre-contact stage of immigrant contact varieties. It also sustains the generalization that the susceptibility of such varieties to contact influence is primarily at the discourse-pragmatic level.
Selected Proceedings of the Second Workshop on Spanish Sociolinguistics
edited by Lotfi Sayahi and Maurice Westmoreland
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