The role of typological markedness in the acquisition of Spanish subjunctive and in language change
The present study has investigated the role of typological markedness in the processes of language change and language acquisition. In particular, the study focuses on changes within generations of speakers in the Puerto Rican community of Western Massachusetts regarding subjunctive mood, and the acquisition of this particular feature by speakers of Spanish as a second language.
According to the typological school, markedness refers to universal categories that hold cross-linguistically (Greenberg 1966) in which certain functions are more frequent (less marked) and others less frequent (more marked). Studies in typology have favored the claim that the hierarchy of markedness of a particular feature relates to the hierarchy in which that feature is acquired as a first language (L1) as well as a second language (L2).
Studies on bilingual communities in the United States have concluded that there is a change in progress among generations of speakers and that changes in a particular feature are related to the process of acquisition of that feature.
The present study has questioned the extent to which these conclusions apply to modal selection in Spanish and the constraints that markedness might impose on the processes of language change and second language acquisition.
Subjects (N = 87) were divided into two groups: (1) speakers of Spanish as L1, and (2) speakers of Spanish as L2. The first group is divided into generations of speakers. Knowledge of subjunctive use was measured by a grammaticality judgment test. The results of the test were statistically analyzed through logistic regression.
The results of the statistical analyses for the grammaticality judgment test showed some evidence that in the process of recognition of the aspects that govern modal selection, L1 formal features of modal selection that appear later in the acquisition process are the first to weaken if the speaker is immersed in a L2 environment, and that this process is constrained by the marked character of some uses with respect to others.
No conclusive evidence has been found to support the claim that L2 acquisition is patterned by markedness. However, the results indicate that in the second language acquisition process, markedness acts as a subconscious cognitive strategy.