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Talk by Dr. Liliana Sánchez, "The challenges of formalizing Heritage speakers’ syntax: Lexical frequency, differential access, and transient alignments"

Event Type
Department of Spanish & Portuguese
Mar 10, 2022   4:00 pm  
Rodrigo Delgado
Originating Calendar
Spanish and Portuguese Calendar

The Spanish & Portuguese Department is delighted to host Dr. Liliana Sánchez (University of Illinois Chicago) for a virtual talk on "The challenges of formalizing Heritage speakers’ syntax: Lexical frequency, differential access, and transient alignments". The talk will be held on Zoom on March 10 at 4 PM CST. See below for registration link.


There are multiple challenges to formalizing the syntactic properties of Heritage Grammars, among which a) divergence from monolingual varieties and b) variability are the two most investigated. These two challenges are at the basis of the difficulties in analyzing heritage grammars. Divergence from baseline speakers, usually first-generation immigrant native speakers, is a characteristic of heritage speakers’ data for which there is ample evidence from oral production and judgment tasks (Montrul, 2004, 2006, 2017; Polinsky, 2006, 2008a, 2008b, 2018, among others). Concurrently, high levels of variability across individuals and within individuals are found in Heritage speakers’ judgments and oral production. This variability takes the form of an alternation between two or more grammatical variants in the same given linguistic context. It is possible to find, in some cases, that the same Heritage speaker may exhibit variability in the same syntactic context both in production and receptive tasks (Giancaspro and Sánchez 2021). In that respect, variability among heritage speakers differs from structural or sociolinguistic variation as it is difficult to attribute it solely to language-external factors such as differences in proficiency levels or network of speakers. For instance, Spanish Heritage speakers may produce both subjunctive mood, indicative and infinitive morphology after desiderative constructions (e.g., querer que: ‘want for X to’) (Perez-Cortes 2016). These patterns of variability show that Heritage speakers may develop a system that permits multiple linguistic forms to appear in a single context. (See also Montrul 2009, 2011, among others).

In this talk, I will discuss some factors involved in variability that may lead to divergence, such as a. differences in the frequency of activation of lexical categories such as nouns and verbs. I will discuss work that shows that heritage speakers perform better in tasks involving syntactic structures with high-frequency lexical items (Hur, López Otero and Sánchez 2021, Perez Cortes 2020, Giancaspro 2020), and I will propose that higher frequency offsets lexical competition due to co-activation (Giezen and Emmorey 2016; Hatzidaki et al. 2011); b. differential access to syntactic representations in receptive and production tasks (Perez Cortés, Putnam and Sánchez 2020); and c. the availability of transient alignments of syntactic features, morphology, and PF (Sánchez 2019).


Dr. Liliana Sánchez's (UIC) research lies in bilingual, heritage and comparative syntax. In bilingual syntax, her current work focuses on crosslinguistic influence across language components especially syntax, morphology and informational structure (Spanish in contact with Quechua, Shipibo, Ashaninka, Korean and English). Her work on heritage bilingualism focuses on modeling processes of divergent access to heritage grammars. In comparative syntax, Sánchez works on the interface between informational structure and morphosyntax (Spanish, Quechua).

Register for this virtual event here:

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