The protracted acquisition of past tense aspectual values in child heritage Spanish

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This study examines the knowledge of past tense aspectual distinctions in Spanish among 19 Spanish-English bilingual children born and raised in the United States. We compare their results with those of 12 of the children’s parents, who are long-term immigrants of Mexican background. We predicted more difficulties among the bilingual children with increasing age as well as strong correlations between performance and language dominance. As expected, the bilingual children showed low production of the imperfect form in characterizing situations, crucially with eventive predicates, but no deficits with the use of the preterit. In contrast to what was expected, target performance was not correlated with language dominance, and we found no correlation between performance and developmental age. However, at the individual level, the older children outperformed the younger children despite more prolonged contact with English. This contrasts with previous research claiming L1 attrition throughout the life span of the bilingual child to account for heritage speakers’ difficulties. Regarding the children’s parents, they all behaved at ceiling and showed no signs of attrition.


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