Processing of Overt and Null Subjects in Spanish-English Bilinguals

Nadia Calderon, Marisa Nagano

This study investigates whether Spanish-English bilinguals process overt pronouns in Spanish
similarly to Spanish monolinguals. The Interface Hypothesis proposes that bilingual speakers
diverge from monolinguals on features of language at the interface of syntax and pragmatics,
including overt pronoun interpretation in null subject languages like Spanish, with previous
studies finding interpretation differences between Italian monolinguals and English-Italian
bilinguals, among others (Sorace & Filiaci, 2006, Sorace, 2011). This current study, unlike these
previous studies focuses on on-line processing instead of interpretation. Based on the Interface
Hypothesis it is expected for the bilinguals to show different patterns than monolinguals in the
processing of overt pronouns in Spanish. Following Gelormini-Lezama & Almor (2011)’s study
of Spanish monolinguals, we conduct a self-paced reading study using different anaphor types
(null pronoun, overt pronoun) to refer to antecedents in different syntactic positions (subject,
object). Bilingual English-Spanish participants (N=15) were instructed to read sentences on a
computer screen and to press the spacebar when done reading each sentence. Along with the
reaction times, we collected a language history background from each participant through a
survey. The results gathered concluded that the English-Spanish bilinguals did not show similar
processing results as the Spanish monolinguals in Gelormini-Lezama & Almor (2011), nor did
any of the language background factors significantly affect the results. This difference between
monolinguals and bilinguals tentatively supports the Interface Hypothesis. However, the low
number of participants in this experiment may have contributed to the lack of effects; further
testing is necessary.