Colloquium: Differential Object Marking (DOM) in Spanish and Hindi as Heritage Languages

November 18, 3:30-5pm, Cobb 201
Silvina Montrul, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Recent studies of adult 2nd generation heritage speakers have documented incomplete acquisition of some aspects of inflectional morphology and syntax (Montrul, 2008; O'Grady et al., 1997; Polinsky 2007). Two relevant questions are which specific aspects of the adult grammar are systematically affected under incomplete acquisition due to reduced input in childhood? And what language-internal and language-external factors contribute to the vulnerability of particular grammatical areas in the weaker language?

In this talk, I will present the results of an ongoing study investigating the linguistic competence of Spanish and Hindi heritage speakers with the overt morphological marking of some direct objects, also known as Differential Object Marking (DOM). In these languages animate, specific direct objects are morphologically marked by the preposition a in Spanish and by the postposition –ko in Hindi. The study focuses on the recognition of DOM as a morphological marker in the most prototypical cases, and less on the semantic interpretations of this marker. Montrul (2004) and Montrul & Bowles (2009, 2010) found that 2nd generation Spanish heritage speakers exhibited high rates of DOM omission in required contexts both in production and judgment tasks. Since the Spanish preposition a is acoustically less salient if it occurs after a verb that ends in a vowel, we undertook a comparative study of Spanish and Hindi to tease apart whether the degree of saliency of the morphological marker plays a role in the degree of erosion in these bilinguals. Spanish and Hindi heritage speakers as well as first generation native speakers of each language completed a series of oral and written production, judgment, and comprehension tasks in Hindi or Spanish. Results analyzed to date show that even though the DOM marker is acoustically more salient in Hindi (postposition –ko) than in Spanish (preposition a) it is similarly omitted with animate, specific objects (and dative subjects) in heritage language grammars and less omitted when it marks indirect objects. Although relevant, it appears that acoustic salience plays a minor role in the perception, processing and acquisition of this marker, and that difficulty may lie in syntactic and semantic features and distribution instead, in addition to other participant-related (individual) variables.