This study set out to investigate whether US Heritage Spanish features a more streamlined verbal paradigm in psych verb constructions compared to standard varieties of Spanish, where HS speakers find an invariable third-person singular form acceptable with both singular and plural grammatical subjects. In standard Spanish, the semantic subjects of psych verbs are typically pre-verbal experiencers cast as oblique arguments in inverse predicates such as in me encantan los buhos
‘I love owls’. The translation of this sentence shows that equivalent English predicates are typically direct constructions. The data were gathered using an acceptability judgement questionnaire that was distributed to participants that fit into one of three groups: early bilingual heritage speakers of Spanish from California, advanced Spanish as L2 speakers, and non-bilingual native speakers of Spanish who had learnt English as an L2 as adults. The Heritage Spanish speakers in this group often patterned differently from both other groups, who surprisingly patterned together. We argue that this is due to L2 speakers’ mode of acquisition (formal and subject to prescriptive grammar), in comparison with Heritage Spanish speakers’ naturalistic acquisition. Specifically, we find evidence for a streamlining of the Spanish verbal paradigm not immediately attributed to English interference, and that in psych verb constructions, Heritage Spanish speakers more readily accept a third-person singular invariable verbal form. This differentiation of the verbal paradigm from standard Spanish use should be considered a bona fide linguistic change, but not proof of either incomplete acquisition or language attrition. Since Heritage Spanish speakers are, after all, native speakers of Spanish, this study shows that Heritage Spanish should be considered and studied as any other dialect of Spanish, with its distinctive grammatical features, and subject to variability and change.
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