Me, Mi, My: Innovation and Variability in Heritage Speakers’ Knowledge of Inalienable Possession.
The present study investigates variability in heritage speakers’ (HSs) knowledge of inalienable possession in Spanish (e.g., me rompí el brazo: ‘I broke my arm’). By testing HSs’ productive and receptive knowledge of this property, the study fills an important gap in the literature and, furthermore, explores whether differences in performance across productive and receptive modalities reflect grammatical innovation at the level of underlying representation. Thirty HSs (16 advanced proficiency, 14 intermediate proficiency) and 15 Spanish-dominant controls (SDCs) completed two experimental tasks, each testing both inalienable and alienable object contexts. Results from the Elicited Production Task show that the HSs exhibit significant variability. Unlike the SDCs, who almost categorically produce clitics to communicate the inalienability of objects, the two HS groups rely more heavily on possessive determiners, alternating frequently between the “target” form (Clitic + DefDet: me rompí el brazo) and three different “innovative” variants (e.g., NoClitic + PossDet: rompí mi brazo). Results from the Acceptability Judgment Task complicate this finding by revealing that the HSs, despite their productive variability, make all of the same within-group distinctions as the SDCs, suggesting that they retain systematic receptive knowledge of inalienable possession. To explain these seemingly contradictory patterns, as well as the strong effect of Spanish proficiency on HSs’ performance across tasks, we suggest that HSs’ variability is consistent with English to Spanish influence at the level of bilingual alignments, transient storage mechanisms proposed by Sánchez (2019) to account for gradient and variable performance in multiple bilingual contexts.