Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Languages and Cultures

Committee Chair

Alejandro Cuza-Blanco

Committee Member 1

Lori Czerwionka

Committee Member 2

Mariko Moroishi Wei


The current study examines the acquisition of the obligatory and variable subjunctive mood selection in epistemic adverbial clauses by L2 learners and heritage speakers (HSs) of Spanish. The acquisition of the Spanish subjunctive shows significant variability among both L2 learners (e.g., Borgonovo, Bruhn de Garavito, & Prévost, 2008; Sánchez-Naranjo, 2009) and heritage speakers of Spanish (e.g., Potowski, Jegerski, & Morgan-Short, 2009). Several studies comparing L2 learners and heritage speakers show that heritage speakers outperform L2 learners at low and intermediate levels (e.g., Montrul & Perpiñán, 2011). Some studies claim that differences between HSs and L2 learners can be explained because they exhibit different levels of exposure to Spanish at home during childhood (e.g., Mikulski, 2010) and in a classroom setting (e.g., Montrul & Perpiñán, 2011). Regarding the type of selection, some researchers have argued interface vulnerability effects in the acquisition of variable subjunctive selection in both L2 learners (e.g., Massery & Fuentes, 2014) and heritage speakers (e.g., Montrul, 2007, 2009). A limitation of these studies is that they have compared obligatory selection in deontic modal bases vs. variable selection in epistemic modal bases. Perez-Cortes (2016) examined subjunctive selection within the deontic modality and found no differences between obligatory and variable selection. No previous work, however, has examined the acquisition of variable and obligatory epistemic predicates by HSs. The present study covers this gap in the literature by examining present subjunctive (PRES SUB) and imperfect subjunctive (IMP SUB) in (a) temporal adverbial clauses with cuando (‘when’) and antes de que (‘before’), and (b) concessive adverbial clauses with aunque (‘although’) and aun a riesgo de que (‘even at the risk of’). Twenty HSs of Spanish (n=20; age range 16-22; M=19.3; SD=1.5), twenty English-speaking L2 learners (n=20; age range 18-22; M=19.65; SD=1.09) and twenty controls from Guanajuato, Mexico control group (n=20; age range 18-28; M=21.0; SD=2.3) completed a sentence completion task (SCT) (e.g., Cuza & López Otero, 2016), an acceptability judgment task (AJT) (e.g., Perez-Cortes, 2016), a forced preference task (FPT) (e.g., Cuza & Frank, 2014; Sánchez-Naranjo, 2009), a language background questionnaire (e.g., Cuza, 2013) and a modified version of the DELE proficiency test (e.g., Cuza, Pérez-Leroux & Sánchez, 2013; Montrul & Slabakova, 2003). Results from the SCT, the AJT and the FPT showed that overall the two experimental groups were outperformed by the control group across all conditions. The L2 group was outperformed by the HSs group in the SCT and in the grammatical sentences of the AJT. When it comes to differences between different types of selection, no significant differences were found between obligatory and variable selection of the subjunctive mood. Results are discussed in terms of age of effects (e.g., Curtiss, 1989; Lenneberg, 1967; Johnson & Newport, 1989) and vulnerability at the syntax-semantics interface (e.g., Sorace, 2000; Sorace & Filiaci, 2006).