Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Hispanic Studies


Dr. Silvia Perpiñán


This study investigates the grammar of Spanish and Polish heritage speakers in Canada: Speakers who grew up speaking their family language at home, where the community language is English. Studies looking at the language of heritage speakers investigate the stability of language and how grammar develops under reduced input conditions (Benmamoun et al., 2010). The aim of this work is to investigate the impact of reduced input on a component within the Null-Subject Parameter - the Overt Pronoun Constraint (OPC) (Montalbetti, 1984). The goal is to understand the interpretations that heritage speakers assign to overt pronouns in very specific contexts.

The OPC is a restriction on an overt pronoun’s possible coreferent. It states the restrictions on this pronoun when its coreferent is a quantified expression (someone, who). As null-subject languages, in Spanish and Polish an overt pronoun in the subordinate clause cannot be bound by a quantified expression (Nadiei cree que élj/*i va a ganar ‘No one believes that he will win’). The overt pronoun needs to be free within its binding domain.

Following Montalbetti (1984), I assume that all quantifiers will be treated equally. Moreover, following a generative framework, it is assumed that that the Null Subject Parameter is set early in the grammars of these null-subject heritage languages (Chomsky, 1981; Jaeggli, 1982; Rizzi, 1982), and thus they will demonstrate understanding of the interpretative restrictions found with subordinate overt pronouns with quantified antecedents.

Results from this study were gathered from four groups of speakers with 20 participants in each group: Spanish heritage, Spanish monolingual, Polish heritage, Polish monolingual. Participants completed two comprehension tasks: a Picture-Matching task, and a Sentence-Selection task. Both tasks tested interpretation of the implicit knowledge of the OPC with quantified antecedents.

Results for the Picture-Matching task show that advanced heritage speakers understand the interpretative contrast present with overt and null pronouns within OPC contexts. However, heritage speakers appear to have more difficulty in the Sentence-Selection task: They do not differentiate between null and overt pronouns. Results suggest lower-proficiency participants have difficulty with the reading/comprehension component of the task, but the OPC remains in their grammars.