Naomi Nagy

Linguistics at U of T

for presentation at NWAV 39 2010

Pro-drop in Heritage Languages
A cross-linguistic study of contact-induced change

Naomi Nagy, Nina Aghdasi, Derek Denis, Meghan Hollett, Alex Motut, and Dylan Uscher University of Toronto


This study presents an innovation in applying consistent methodology across multiple langauge-contact contexts toa dvance understanding of contact-induced change. We analyze the effects a constellation of facotrs (linguistic, typological, demographic, social) on a single linguistic variable: (pro-drop). Our data (~4800 tokens), from the Heritage Language Documentation Corpus (Nagy 2009), which consists of sociolinguistic interviews conducted in Toronto in the heritage languages (HLs) of 40 speakers from each of six lesser-studied HLs (Cantonese, Faetar, Korean, Italian, Russian, Ukrainian)*, is contrasted with samples of Toronto English and homeland varieties of several HLs (Zdorenko 2009, Nagy & Heap 1998).

For comparability with previous studies, we examine continuity of reference (Cameron 1995), contextual/formal ambiguity of the referent/subject (Paredes Silva 1993) and clause type (Harvie 1998). Participants were asked about their ethnic identification, language use, and linguistic attitudes (Keefe & Padilla 1987, Hoffman & Walker in press) and responses were calculated into index scores to quantify each speaker's orientation toward his/her heritage language/culture (vs. English-speaking "Canadian" culture). We examine how pro-drop rates and constraint hierarchies in each HL correlate to index scores to see if this variable is related to etnic identity and/or language use.

A pilot test (2400 tokens) showed convergence toward English among 4 of 5 HLs: conpared to the first generation, second generation immigrants showed more similar rankings to our English sample; and two languages show significant rate differences, reflecting a shift toward the 1-2% rate observed in spoken English. No effect is seen for any of the above indices, suggesting that this feature is not used to construct ethnic identity; however, coding of additional tokens is ongoing (to be completed this summer) to produce more robust findings, and the larger sample may prove otherwise. Russian, the language showing no change in progress, may differ for typological reasons (Biberauer et al. 2010) or macro-level social differences.


Biberauer, T., A. Holmberg, I. Roberts, & M. Sheehan. 2010. Parametric Variation: Null Subjects in Minimalist Theory. Cambridge University Press.

Cameron, R. 1995. The scope and limits of switch-reference as a constraint on pronominal subject expression. Hispanic Linguistics 6/7:1-27.

Harvie, D. 1998. Null subject in English. Cahiers linguistiques d'Ottawa 26:15-25.

Hoffman, M. & J. Walker in press. Ethnolects and the city: Ethnic orientation and linguistic variation in Toronto English. Language Variation and Change 21.1. Keefe, S. & A. Padilla. 1987. Chicano Ethnicity. Albuquerque, NM: UNM Press.

Nagy, N. 2009. Heritage Language Variation and Change in Toronto.

Nagy, N. & D. J. Heap. 1998. Francoproven├žal Null Subject and Constraint Interaction. In M. C. Gruber, D. Higgins, K.S. Olson & T. Wysocki (eds.), CLS 34: The Panels. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society 34.2:151-166.

Paredes Silva, V. 1993. Subject omission and functional compensation: Evidence from written Brazilian Portuguese. Language Variation and Change 5.1: 35-49.

Zdorenko, T. 2009. Subject omission in Russian: a study of the Russian National Corpus. Language and Computers 71.1:119-133.

*Collaboration with experts in these languages, especially their homeland varieties, is sought.*

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