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International Conference on Historical Linguistics

The Expression of Subject Pronouns in Spanish and Portuguese Wh-Interrogatives

Video

Speaker

Malte Resemeyer

Abstract

It is well known that Spanish and Portuguese display comparable patterns of dialectal variation regarding the expression of subject pronouns in wh-interrogatives. In Caribbean Spanish (CS) and Brazilian Portuguese (BP) wh-interrogatives, subject pronouns are typically realized between the interrogative pronoun/adverb and the verb, as in (1a). In contrast, in European Spanish (ES) and Portuguese (EP) wh-interrogatives, subject pronouns are usually omitted, as in (1b).

  1. ‘What do you want?’
      • CS ¿Qué tú quieres?
      • BP O que você quer?
      • ES ¿Qué quieres?
      • EP Que queres’?

The fact that overt pronouns are frequently placed after the interrogative pronoun/adverb in CS and BP has often been explained as a corollary of the fact that the likelihood of use of an overt NP before the verb is higher in these dialects than in their European counterparts in any sentence type (see, e.g., Cameron and Flores-Ferrán 2004 for Spanish; Barbosa, Duarte and Kato 2005 for Portuguese). This finding, in turn, is typically attributed to the influence of African substrates. For instance, there is a higher incidence of the use of overt NPs before the verb in the Antillean bozal, leading to sequences such as “Uté mira, tó mundo, ripiá, facitó, tó mundo camina sobre tiera. Y cuando uté quié ensuciá, uté ensucia la tiera. Y son deuda que uté ta crea con tiera” (Otheguy 2000[1975]: 375–376). In summary, this Contact Hypothesis assumes that the higher likelihood of use of preposed NPs in wh-interrogatives in CS and BP is a direct result of the strong contact between Romance and African languages in the Caribbean and in Brazil.

Although the Contact Hypothesis has been maintained by many authors (see the summary in Gutiérrez Maté 2013: 35–38), to my knowledge there does not yet exist a quantitative study testing the relevance of the hypothesis for the description of the use of overt subject pronouns in wh-interrogatives. The Contact Hypothesis predicts that (a) the discourse functions of overt pronouns in wh-interrogatives are comparable in CS and BP, and (b) CS and BP differ in the same manner from the respective European dialects regarding their use of overt pronouns in wh-interrogatives.

I use data from the new two billion-word collection of texts from web pages and blogs in the Corpus del español (Davies 2015–2016) in order to test these predictions. Due to its size and the informality of web texts, the corpus allows for a detailed statistical analysis of (a) the correlations between the usage frequencies of overt and non-overt subject pronoun wh-interrogatives in Spanish and Portuguese dialects and (b) the factors governing the use of overt subject pronouns in CS and BP.

Preliminary results from the analysis suggest that while the mechanisms governing the use of overt subject pronouns in wh-interrogatives are indeed comparable in CS and BP, its use is conventionalized to a greater degree in BP than in CS, a result that is difficult to explain by reference to the Contact Hypothesis alone.

Although the Contact Hypothesis has been maintained by many authors (see the summary in Gutiérrez Maté 2013: 35–38), to my knowledge there does not yet exist a quantitative study testing the relevance of the hypothesis for the description of the use of overt subject pronouns in wh-interrogatives. The Contact Hypothesis predicts that (a) the discourse functions of overt pronouns in wh-interrogatives are comparable in CS and BP, and (b) CS and BP differ in the same manner from the respective European dialects regarding their use of overt pronouns in wh-interrogatives.

I use data from the new two billion-word collection of texts from web pages and blogs in the Corpus del español (Davies 2015–2016) in order to test these predictions. Due to its size and the informality of web texts, the corpus allows for a detailed statistical analysis of (a) the correlations between the usage frequencies of overt and non-overt subject pronoun wh-interrogatives in Spanish and Portuguese dialects and (b) the factors governing the use of overt subject pronouns in CS and BP.

Preliminary results from the analysis suggest that while the mechanisms governing the use of overt subject pronouns in wh-interrogatives are indeed comparable in CS and BP, its use is conventionalized to a greater degree in BP than in CS, a result that is difficult to explain by reference to the Contact Hypothesis alone.


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