Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Languages and Cultures

First Advisor

Alejandro Cuza-Blanco

Committee Chair

Alejandro Cuza-Blanco

Committee Member 1

Lori Czerwionka

Committee Member 2

Elaine Francis

Committee Member 3

Daniel Olson

Committee Member 4

Liliana Sanchez


The present study contributes to our understanding of cross-linguistic influence by studying three different groups of Spanish-English speakers’ knowledge of the distribution of definite articles in both of their languages using a battery of tests that require them to draw on different linguistic abilities. These three groups include native English speakers who learned Spanish after adolescence, native Spanish speakers who learned English after adolescence and simultaneous bilinguals who grew up in the United States speaking both English and Spanish from birth. Specifically, this study explores interpretation, production and intuition regarding the acceptability of definite articles in different contexts. Since the three bilingual groups differ in terms of dominant language and the age at which they learned each language, this study aimed to explore how these differences affect both the type and extent of cross-linguistic influence present and how this relates to the type of task.

Results show that, while acquisition of a new assembly of syntax to semantic features in a second language and maintenance of minority language feature assembly is possible, the extent to which bilingual speakers inhibit the features of their first language varies depending on task type. Specifically, second language learners (L2) show less transfer from their dominant language on the most metalinguistic task, which is also a written task. In contrast, heritage speakers have the most trouble inhibiting English features on these metalinguistic tasks, often accepting ungrammatical or infelicitous sentences in their heritage language due to transfer from English.

While the most common type of strategy applied by all three groups of bilinguals involves dominant-language transfer, overextension was found among participants in both L2 learner groups but was absent among the heritage speakers, suggesting that this may be an artifact of an older age of onset of acquisition or classroom experience in the second language. Finally, an analysis of the dominant language of these bilingual speakers in comparison to monolinguals also yielded interesting findings. In line with some previous research, this study has shown that those speakers who have acquired a second language as adults (both L2 groups in this study) behave more categorically in their dominant language even in comparison to monolingual speakers. This suggests that multilinguals become more aware of the relationship between syntax and semantics and are more conscious of their effects on acceptability as the result of language study. It does not seem that this result holds for all bilinguals, since this advantage was not found for the heritage speakers in their dominant language, English. Therefore, this advantage most likely results from conscious study and manipulation of language through classroom second language study. These results all suggest that bilingual proficiency is dynamic, shifting as a result of language experience, not only with regard to the non-dominant language but also the dominant language.