Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures


Ricardo Otheguy

Committee Members

José del Valle

Beatriz Lado

Subject Categories

Spanish Linguistics


Language Contact, Leveling Hypothesis, First Generation, Spanish in NYC, Variationist Sociolinguistics


In situations of bilingualism in the United States, it has been shown that speakers who alter their grammar (syntax or morphology) are mostly second generation, that is, Latinos born in the United States (Flores-Ferrán 2004; Montrul 2004 ; Silva-Corvalán, 1994). Research about Spanish in the US shows that second generation speakers have different features from those of the first generation who are Latinos born in Latin America. However, is it possible that all the speakers of the first generation behave grammatically in the same way due to the fact of being born in Latin America regardless of the amount of years living in the country?

This dissertation is a variationist study of Spanish in New York City that seeks to explore if the grammar of the newcomers and that of the established immigrants, who together make up the first generation, is modified like the grammar of the second generation speakers born in NYC. Through the study of the subject pronoun variable, this dissertation explores whether the hierarchies of variables and constraints are the same in these two groups coming to NYC from Latin America.

For the purpose of this research, as in other sociolinguistics studies, first generation speakers, that is newcomers and established immigrants, are called exposure groups (to the city and English spoken in New York City).

In this dissertation, I study the presence or absence of the subject pronoun, making a hierarchical classification of the internal and external variables that condition its use, and of the factors in which they are subdivided. The corpus of this research is composed of 114 transcribed interviews with first generation immigrant speakers and newcomers from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador residing in New York. The study takes into consideration the occurrences where the use of the pronoun is variable or optional. In the different national and exposure groups, I analyze the most important variables in terms of the predictive value of the pronoun appearance, and check if the same order of variables and constraints is given in the different groups.

The results show that the order and weight of the variables is different between the different groups. It is also observed that the internal variables are more important than the external ones to differentiate the immigrant and newcomers speakers in New York in the realization of the subject pronoun. The Caribbeans of both groups have the highest level of use of the pronoun. Immigrants are different from newcomers by the age they came to NYC and the level of English proficiency. The language contact hypothesis is only valid for the informants who have been in the city for the longest time and have been more exposed to the contact language. The internal variables that have greater prediction in the use of the pronoun are Reference and Person for the newcomers. For the immigrants they are Person and Reference. Finally, constraints hierarchies are different in the Person and Tense variables in the two exposure groups. Despite these differences, the strength of Spanish continuity in Latin America in the pronominal distribution in Spanish of newcomers and immigrants is greater than the force of change.