CUNY Psycholinguistics Supper: Silvina Montrul (University of Illinois)

OCT 02, 2012 | 6:30 PM TO 8:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




October 02, 2012: 6:30 PM-8:00 PM




Knowledge of gender in Spanish heritage speakers and second language learners: Where are the differences?

Abstract: One of the chief characteristics of heritage speakers is that they range in proficiency from as low as the abilities of “overhearers” to the full competence of “native” speakers. To date, the vast majority of linguistic and psycholinguistically oriented studies have been focusing on characterizing the non-target like linguistic abilities of heritage speakers as products of incomplete acquisition and/or attrition because they received reduced exposure and opportunities to use the language during childhood. In this talk I focus on the other side of the problem, emphasizing instead the high incidence of native like abilities in adult heritage speakers. The question of whether early language experience bring an advantage to Spanish heritage speakers in their knowledge of early acquired aspects of morphosyntax when compared to late L2 learners of comparable proficiency has received mixed answers, with some studies finding no advantages (Au et al, 2002) and others finding some depending on structures and tasks (Montrul 2010, Montrul, Foote & Perpiñán, 2008). I illustrate potential advantages for heritage speakers with recent experimental evidence from gender agreement in Spanish, a grammatical feature that is mastered at almost 100% accuracy in production by native speakers yet it is one of the most difficult areas to master for non-native speakers, including near-natives. I discuss how age of acquisition and language learning experience explain these effects.