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Mood selection: a look at Northern Nevada Latinos.

Abstract

This study investigates the stability of Spanish among various Spanish-speaking generations of Latinos in Reno, Nevada by studying mood selection. The goal of the study is two-fold: 1) to present an empirical analysis of Spanish subjunctive use, and 2) to determine whether simplification of the subjunctive is a sign of language loss. Twenty-four bilingual Spanish speakers from three generations participated. Data from this study will contribute findings to the area of Spanish-language use in the lesser-researched non-cosmopolitan regions of the US.

Introduction

Sociolinguistic research on the stability of a minority language in a "dual" language community most often will examine the production of linguistic features that are defined as having variable use among monolingual speakers of that minority language. The basic hypothesis of the stability of minority language is that "loss" of a language most likely occurs when there are signs of language simplification among the second and third generation speakers of the minority language. As defined by Silva-Corvalan (1995), if first-generation speakers of Spanish favor certain discourse-pragmatic contexts for the occurrence of a form and the same favoring contexts fail to elicit the expected forms in the speech of those in the second and third-generations, the forms in question are considered to be undergoing simplification (p. 25).

The present study analyzes the process of change that affects the use of the Spanish language mood selection among the different generations of adult Spanish speakers in Reno, Nevada. Past linguistic researchers (Guitart 1982, Ocampo 1990, Silva-Corvalan 1995, Struderus 1995, Montrul 2005, among others) suggest that there is a simplification of subjunctive usage by United States Spanish speakers among the second and third-generations, whereas Torres (1997) suggests that the use of the subjunctive mood among these different generations do not significantly differ during natural conversational speech. Torres questions the methodology of previous research stating that the results may be erroneous due to researchers' reliance on impressions, translation tasks, grammaticality judgment tests, and fill-in tests. The difference in Torres' findings and the findings of the previously mentioned researchers may also suggest that each community is unique and tendencies found in one Spanish-speaking community in the US can not be generalized.

To date, there are no studies that examine the sociolinguistic or linguistic stability of the Spanish language in the state of Nevada, a region with a rapidly growing and fairly large Latino community. Therefore, the goal of the present study is two-fold: 1) to present an empirical analysis of the use of the Spanish subjunctive among three generations, and 2) to determine whether the simplification of the Spanish subjunctive is a sign of language loss in the community.

Background: Mood selection

In the Spanish language, the indicative and subjunctive mood is expressed by means of inflectional morphology. Mood selection is governed by syntactic and semantic factors; these mood choices occur only in the linguistic environment of subordinate clauses (Terrell & Hooper, 1974). The three syntactic environments in which the subjunctive may occur are in nominal, adjectival, or adverbial clauses. Indicative and subjunctive mood in nominal clauses can be lexically or semantically selected. Lexically selected moods concern volitional predicates as in
 Quiero que estudies para el examen manana.
 'I want you to study-SUBJ for tomorrow's exam.'


where the subjunctive is obligatory. However, mood selection in nominal clauses is variable when the speaker who uses the subjunctive has done so in order to communicate a lesser degree of assertiveness. One such case involves clauses embedded under an expression of a subjective reaction and is presupposed to be true, as in
 Es bueno que Juan sepa/sabe hablar japones.
 'It's great that John knows-SUBJ/INDC how to speak Japanese.'


Variability is the result of speakers' differences of meaning or subjective evaluations. Mood selection in adjectival (relative) clauses is variable depending on the semantic difference of presupposition. If the speaker has had no prior experience with a person, place, situation, or thing then the subjunctive mood is required in the dependent clauses that refer to someone or something that does not exist, is indefinite, or uncertain because there is no presupposition, as in
 Busco una secretaria que sepa hablar espanol.
 'I'm looking for a secretary who knows-SUBJ how to speak Spanish.'


However, the indicative is used when the presupposition of the embedded clause is asserted, as in
 Busco la secretaria que sabe hablar espanol.
 'I'm looking for the secretary who knows-INDC how to speak
 Spanish.'


Adverbial clauses require the subjunctive or the indicative mood depending on whether the clause introduced by them is intended to denote a future/retrospective future situation or not, respectively. That is, the semantic criteria for subjunctive use in the subordinate clause needs to refer to potential future events as seen in example
 Cuando me gradue, trabajare.
 'When I graduate-SUB J, I will work.'


but not in this example:
 Cuando llego a la universidad, siempre tomo un cafe.
 'When I arrive-INDC at the university, I always have a coffee.'


Because mood in Spanish allows for variability between indicative and subjunctive depending on semantic context, it becomes an excellent tool in which to gauge language change and/or simplification by comparing preferences for use of mood in variable contexts among first-generation speakers of Spanish and second and third-generation speakers of Spanish living in the United States. The term 'variability' should not be confused with cases that are explained by obviously contrasting semantic functions.

Research Questions

The question that arises is whether there is a difference in the oral production of the subjunctive between first, second, and third-generation Spanish-speakers in this community? If so, in which contexts do these differences appear and do they signify language loss?

The Study

Participants. The 24 speakers of Mexican origin included in this study represent three different immigrant groups according to their age of immigration. The six participants in Group 1 are first-generation speakers of Spanish who were born in Mexico and immigrated to the US after the age of eleven. The 14 participants in Group 2 are second-generation speakers of Spanish who either emigrated from Mexico to the US before age six or were born in the US to at least one parent in Group 1. The four participants in Group 3 are third-generation speakers of Spanish who were born in the US to at least one parent who belonged in Group 2. The Latino community in the Reno area comprises nearly 20% of the population (U.S. Census Bureau. 2000) with access to the Spanish language in all domains.

Materials. The data were gathered through a written background questionnaire and through a recorded oral interview. The interview format was based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines since the format elicits various levels of Spanish language proficiency. During the oral interview, the participants were asked to: discuss personal activities, explain a process, state advantages and disadvantages of a given topic, support an opinion, and hypothesize on an impersonal topic. In addition, they were asked questions based on photographs presented to them: describe a place or activities, give directions, narrate a sequence of scenes in the present tense, and narrate a sequence of scenes in the past tense. Included in the interview were questions about participants' feelings on immigration, Mexicans in Reno, code-switching, the Latino community, and the importance of maintaining Spanish. In addition, the participants listened to a Latina code-switching from Spanish to English and were asked to react to what they heard.

Scoring. Each occurrence of the following structures was tallied and labeled 'subjunctive-related structures': 1) Structures that trigger the use of the obligatory subjunctive in nominal clauses (volitive, impossible, causative), 2) Structures that trigger the use of the variable subjunctive in nominal clauses as categorized by Ocampo (1990) (comment, doubt, negative casual, locative, modal, relative), and 3) Structures that trigger the use of the obligatory subjunctive in adverbial clauses. A second tally consisted of the production of the subjunctive mood in the subjunctive-related structures as defined above. Finally, a subjunctive usage percentage was calculated based on the following calculations: number of times the subjunctive was used divided by the number of structures that required the subjunctive according to textbook grammar use of the subjunctive. Note that because variability of the use of indicative versus the use of the subjunctive also has regional preferences, the tallies and percentages of the second and third-generation speakers will be compared to the scores of the first-generation speakers and not to what traditional 'textbook' grammar states. For the compilation of the statistics, only the use of the subjunctive in nominal and adverbial clauses was taken into consideration. The use of the subjunctive in adjectival clauses and commands was excluded because the data collected were not adequate to measure the participants' ability to use the subjunctive in this environment. The participants used commands exclusively in response to the direction-giving request; however, they were not specifically instructed to use usted, the formal 'you', which would have allowed them to produce the subjunctive in their responses. Instead, most participants opted for addressing the interviewer with tri, the informal 'you', using the imperative or other means for giving directions.

Statistical Description

The overall performance of the subjunctive in the two clauses (nominal and adverbial) by the three groups is presented in this section. Table 1 summarizes the findings for the six first-generation participants, showing that four nominal clauses requiring the subjunctive were produced. Of those, the subjunctive was used 100% of the time. In addition, seven nominal clauses having a variable use of the subjunctive mood were produced, of which the subjunctive was used in six dependent clauses (and the indicative was used in the sentence with the predicate no creer que 'not to believe that' in the independent clause), producing a usage rate of 86%. Finally, 23 adverbial clauses were produced, of which the subjunctive was used 91% of the time. See issue website http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/spr2006.htm

Table 2 summarizes the findings for the 14 second-generation participants, showing that 14 nominal clauses requiring the subjunctive were produced. Of those, the subjunctive was used in all situations producing a usage rate of 100%. In addition, 28 nominal clauses having a variable use of the subjunctive mood were produced, of which the subjunctive was used in nine dependent clauses, producing a subjunctive usage rate of 32%. Finally, 23 adverbial clauses were produced, of which the subjunctive was used 91% of the time. See http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/spr2006.htm

Table 3 summarizes the findings for the 4 third-generation participants, showing that 1 nominal clause requiring the subjunctive was produced. Of those, the subjunctive was used in all situations producing a usage rate of 100%. In addition, seven nominal clauses having a variable use of the subjunctive mood were produced, of which the subjunctive was used once and the indicative was used in the sentences with the predicate tener miedo que 'to be afraid that', molestar que 'to be bothered that', parecer que 'to seem that', no pensar que 'not to think that', and no creer que 'not to believe that' in the independent clause), producing a subjunctive usage rate of 14%. Finally, 11 adverbial clauses were produced, of which the subjunctive was used 91% of the time. A larger participant pool for the third-generation group might have produced more stable statistics. See issue website http://rapidintelleet.com/AEQweb/spr2006.htm The performance of subjunctive use in the two clause types (nominal and adverbial) by the three groups was compared and the data are presented in this section. A comparison of the subjunctive usage rate of the three generations shows that all three generations performed equally well when the subjunctive in nominal clauses was obligatory (100% for all three groups) and adverbial clauses (91%, 89%, and 91% respectively).

Although there seems to be no difference between the three generations' use of the subjunctive in obligatory contexts, a closer look at the contexts, which allow for variation in use of the subjunctive versus the indicative leads to alternate theories and/or findings. The nominal clauses that had variable use of the subjunctive produced different results among the three generations. The three generations do not differ in the production of subjunctive forms in obligatory nominal clauses and adverbial clauses. However, the first-generation Latinos favored the use of the subjunctive in variable nominal clauses (86%), while the second and third-generation Latinos favored the use of the indicative, 32% and 14% respectively. A more detailed look at the data show that all those participants who produced subjunctive-related structures (6 first-generation and 14 second-generation) also used the subjunctive in those cases where the subjunctive was obligatory, except for the third-generation participants (n = 4), where two of the four participants used the subjunctive in those cases where the subjunctive was obligatory.

In summary, the second and third-generation Spanish language speakers perform equally well as the first-generation speakers in obligatory contexts (nominal and adverbial clauses). However, where the first-generation speakers favored the use of the subjunctive in variable contexts, the second and third-generation speakers overwhelmingly favor the use of the subjunctive. In addition, by the third generation, 50% of the Spanish speakers produce the subjunctive in cases where the subjunctive is obligatory. Again, a larger participant pool for the third-generation group would have produced more solid comparative statistics.

Conclusions

Returning to the first research question, is there a difference in the oral production of the subjunctive between first, second, and third generation Spanish speakers in the Latino community? The answer varies. Similar to Torres' (1997) findings that there is no difference in the use of the subjunctive among the different generations, the data in the present study reveals that there is almost no difference in the oral production of the subjunctive in obligatory nominal clauses and adverbial clauses among the three generations of participants. On the other hand, the data revealed a definite preference for the subjunctive in nominal-variable clauses by the first-generation group as compared to the second generation. Furthermore, the third generation showed a much more definite preference for the indicative in nominal-variable clauses. This second finding of diminished preference of the subjunctive mood by the second and third-generation Latinos suggests that these speakers are considered to be undergoing language simplification because they are losing or have lost the semantic ability to express degrees of assertiveness and degrees of meaning and/or subjectivity in evaluations. This finding corroborates the conclusions of Ocampo (1990), Silva-Corvalan (1995), and Montrul (2005) that first generation Latinos have a system of verb morphology, which allows them to convey different degrees of possibility, assertiveness, and predictive certainty, which the second and third generation are losing or have lost.

So what conclusions can be made about the stability of Spanish among the Latino community? A sociolinguistic description of the Latino community in Reno, Nevada by Isabelli (2003) shows that many healthy sociolinguistic factors are present in the community (circulatory migration, new arrivals, religious ceremonies offered in Spanish, Latino business corridors, etc). Since these sociolinguistic factors are present, then there is the possibility of maintaining the minority language if certain education programs are put into place to strengthen these linguistic areas where simplification is in progress. For example, a program to develop Spanish language proficiency would be a welcome suggestion. Gibbons and Ramirez (2004) suggest that in order to promote the maintenance of a minority language, education needs to be included in the minority language not only at the elementary level but also at the high school level since it is there that more complex grammar (lexical density, phrasal and syntactic intricacy, and grammatical metaphor) normally appears (Silva-Covalan 2003 shows that it takes up to 12 years to learn the subjunctive in first language acquisition). Furthermore, a study by Montrul (2005) showed that although heritage speakers of Spanish were not necessarily able to discriminate semantically between subjunctive and indicative in variable contexts, the author concluded that advanced second-language learners who received instruction on these variable contexts were able to significantly discriminate semantically between the two moods in variable contexts and there was no question that Heritage speakers would also benefit from this type of advanced instruction.

Academic programs within the community and at the elementary, high school, and university level need to target the second and third-generation Spanish speakers by offering instruction on the more advanced grammatical structures in Spanish as a way to promote minority language maintenance. Future research on the benefits of advanced language instruction will clarify these benefits.

References

Gibbons, John and Elizabeth Ramirez. 2004. Maintaining a Minority Language: A Case Study of Hispanic Teenagers. NY: Multilingual Matters LTD.

Guitart, Jorge. 1982. On the use of the subjunctive among Spanish-English bilinguals. Word 33.59-67.

Isabelli, Casilde. 2003. Spanish Use among Hispanics in Reno, Nevada: A Pilot Study. Paper presented at the October 2003 conference of 6th Conference on the Acquisition of Spanish and Portuguese as an L1 and L2; University of New Mexico, NM.

Montrul, Silvina. 2005. Interpreting mood distinctions in Spanish as a Heritage language. Paper presented at the March 2005 conference of 20th Conference on Spanish in the United States; University of Chicago, IL.

Ocampo, Francisco. 1990. El subjuntivo en tres generaciones de hablantes bilingues. In Spanish in the United States: Sociolinguistic issues. Ed. J. Bergen. 39-48. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Silva-Corvalan, Carmen. 1994. Language contact and change: Spanish in Los Angeles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

---. 1995. The gradual loss of mood distinctions in Los Angeles Spanish. Language Variation and Change 6: 255-72.

---. 2003. Linguistic consequences of reduced input in bilingual first language acquisition. Linguistic Theory and Language Development in Hispanic Languages. Ed. S.

Montrul and F. Ordonez. 375-397. Somervile, MA: Cascadilla Press. Struderus, Lenard. 1995. Mood variability in border Spanish. Bilingual Review 20: 99114.

Torres, Lourdes. 1997. Puerto Rican discourse: A sociolinguistic study of a New York suburb. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Terrell, Tracy and Joan Hooper. 1974. A semantically based analysis of mood in Spanish. Hispania 57:484-494.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2000. United States Census 2000. Retrieved 10/16/2005 from www.census.gov

Casilde Isabelli, University of Nevada, Reno

Casilde Isabelli, PhD, is an assistant professor of Spanish Linguistics in the Department of Foreign Languages at UNR.
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Author:Isabelli, Casilde
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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