Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Linguistics Option)

Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Leora Bar-el

Commitee Members

Irene Appelbaum, Naomi Lapidus Shin


aspect, Chilean-Americans, heritage language, heritage speakers, language change, linguistics, Spanish, telicity, tense


University of Montana


This thesis focuses on preterit and imperfect usage in the Spanish of Chilean-American heritage speakers. Spanish heritage speakers in the United States are second generation bilinguals who learn Spanish in the home from Spanish speaking parents and learn English from school and the community (Montrul 2002; Rothman 2007). When societal factors limit heritage language exposure, tense and aspect morphology is susceptible to change (Guijarro-Fuentes & Clibbens 2004). Findings of a study on 11 Chilean-American heritage speakers show that production of the preterit is overextending, resulting in less frequent use of the imperfect. Large-scale studies of US Spanish-English bilinguals’ use of the Spanish past tense forms (canté ‘I sang’ preterit vs. cantaba ‘I sang’ imperfect) report changes in how first generation Spanish speakers use these forms (Montrul 2002; Silva-Corvalán 1994; Zentella 1997). The preterit is used to denote events viewed as a complete whole (perfective) and the imperfect denotes incompletion or an action viewed as in progress in the past (imperfective). The current study employed a three part on-line questionnaire that included: (i) a language background and social variables section; (ii) a closed-question section using the story, Ricitos de Oro ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’; and (iii) an open-question section where participants were asked to translate English past tense sentences into Spanish. This study provides an in-depth analysis for the internally-driven motivations for the changing use of the preterit (perfective aspect) and imperfect (imperfective aspect). I account for the overextension of the preterit as a consequence of the interaction between lexical aspect (classification of predicates based on inherent meanings such as states and events) and grammatical aspect (externally coded aspectual properties such as the preterit and imperfect). Spanish heritage speakers are making use of lexical aspect when producing overt aspectual forms. This is similar to how tense and aspect morphology is acquired and produced in children (Slobin 1977). This strategy is a way to use the information provided by lexical aspect, overt morphology, and discursive context to denote the aspectual interpretations of perfectivity and imperfectivity. This study has implications for educators who teach heritage speakers because they are known to have different needs than second language learners (Montrul 2002) and also adds to the literature on Chilean-Americans, an underrepresented group in bilingualism and heritage language studies.



© Copyright 2012 Jackelyn Kelly Van Buren