Spanish copula selection with adjectives in school-aged bilingual children




Requena, Pablo E.
Dracos, Melisa

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SAGE Publications


Aims and objectives/purpose/research questions: This study examined whether school-aged second-generation heritage speakers exhibit knowledge of the semantic and pragmatic constraints on Spanish copula selection with adjectives, and whether experiential factors affect copula interpretation. Design/methodology/approach: Following a between-subjects design, we administered 2 Picture Selection Tasks to 50 second-generation bilingual children (ages 5;1–14;10) and 21 first-generation adults living in the same community in central Texas. Task 1 included real adjectives and Task 2 novel adjectives. We administered a morphosyntactic proficiency test in English and Spanish (BESA/BESA-ME) to the children and obtained language exposure and use data. Data and analysis: Using generalized linear mixed models, analyses compared bilingual children to first-generation adults in their selection of the temporary picture with each copula (ser vs. estar), and also examined the role of age, language exposure/use, and morphosyntactic proficiency. Findings/conclusions: Only children with high Spanish morphosyntactic proficiency approached adult-like sensitivity to the semantic and pragmatic distinctions between ser and estar with adjectives. Age, Spanish exposure and use, and English proficiency did not significantly influence performance on the tasks. Originality: This study provides the first detailed examination of the acquisition of copula selection with adjectives in Spanish-English school-aged heritage speakers living in the US. Significance/implications: This study offers evidence of the vulnerability of aspect, as instantiated in Spanish copula selection, among school-aged bilingual children. It also suggests low-proficiency children might be a catalyzing locus of the accelerated changes in copula use.



child language acquisition, bilingual children, heritage speakers, bilingual first language acquisition, Spanish, English, copula, ser, estar, semantics, pragmatics, proficiency


Requena, P. E., & Dracos, M. (2021). Spanish copula selection with adjectives in school-aged bilingual children. International Journal of Bilingualism, 25(3), 548–567.


Modern Languages and Literatures