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Inter-generational contact and variation in agreement in Afro-Bolivian Spanish DPs. Bangor University 10 January 2011. Manuel Delicado-Cantero Australian National University ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Bangor University Sandro Sessarego

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inter generational contact and variation in agreement in afro bolivian spanish dps

Inter-generational contact and variation in agreement in Afro-Bolivian Spanish DPs

Bangor University

10 January 2011

Manuel Delicado-Cantero

Australian National University

ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Bangor University

Sandro Sessarego

The Ohio State University

  • Introduction
  • Socio-historical overview
  • Afro-Bolivian Determiner Phrase features
  • A Formal Analysis to account for Number Agreement Variation in the DP
  • Conclusions
  • This study evaluates variation in the number agreement system of Afro-Bolivian Spanish, an Afro vernacular dialect deriving from what was once a Spanish bozal (black slaves from Africa and their descendants) language spoken in Los Yungas, Department of La Paz, Bolivia.
  • Results indicate a case of cross-generational change, consisting of the systematic substitution of stigmatized basilectal Afro-Bolivian features with more prestigious High Bolivian Spanish ones. One of the outcomes of this situation is the transition from one number agreement system to another(and the consequent mix).
  • Our purpose is to shed light on the linguistic constraints regulating number agreement and propose a theoretical framework capable of accounting for the variation encountered.
  • Intra-speaker variation becomes the core in the research, thus reclaiming previously disregarded phenomena –i.e., previously considered as E-language phenomena (Adger and Trousdale 2007).
socio historical overview
Socio-historical overview
  • Afro-Bolivian Spanish is supposed to be the oldest surviving Afro-Hispanic dialect in Latin America.
  • Its speakers are believed to be the descendents of African slaves taken to the New World to work in Potosí silver mines during the 16th century.
  • Africans started being used as slaves presumably around the 18th century in Los Yungas, tropical valleys in which they did agricultural work (Crespo 1976, Lipski 2006, 2008).
socio historical overview1
Socio-historical overview

Slavery was formally abolished in Bolivia in 1826, reestablished in 1830, and abolished again in 1831.

However, until 1952, when the Land Reform took place, Afro-Bolivians continued to be employed in Los Yungas as slaves in haciendas.

socio historical overview2
Socio-historical overview

The most important North Yungas communities containing high concentrations of Afro-Bolivians are Tocaña, Mururata, Chijchipa, Coscoma, Dorado Chico and Khala Khala.

In South Yungas the principal black community is Chicaloma.

Both areas are mainly inhabited by Aymara-speaking indigenous population.

socio historical overview3
Socio-historical overview

Black Yungueños in South Yungas have frequently intermarried with Aymaras, speak Aymara and wear traditional Aymara clothing. As a result, in this area only a few of the traditional dialect features remain.

On the other hand, in North Yungas communities, Afro-Bolivians remain linguistically and culturally separate from Aymaras; Afro-Hispanic speech still survives and is used as intra-group language between the members of the community.

socio historical overview4
Socio-historical overview
  • Typically, until 1952 black workers were not allowed to attend school.
  • However, after that date, the hacienda system ended and basic public education began to arrive in Afro-Yungueño communities.
  • The study of Spanish at schools, the possibility of traveling outside of Yungas, and the stigmatization attached to ABS resulted in a gradual drop of the traditional dialect by Afro-Bolivians.
  • As a consequence, some features of this vernacular have gradually been displaced by Highland Bolivian Spanish (HBS) ones.
abs dp features
ABS DP features
  • Lipski (2006) points out features of ABS DP, including:

(a) lack of noun-adjective gender agreement:

1. La fiesta muy bonito [HBS bonita] very beautiful.®.sg

`The very nice party’

(b) invariant plurals:

2. 100 mandarina [HBS 100 mandarinas]

100 mandarin.Ø

`100 mandarins’

(c) extra invariant plural definite article lu (‘the-pl’):

3. Lu taza [HBS las tazas]

The-pl cup.Ø

‘The cups’

number variation inside the dp
Number variation inside the DP

(d) frequently, the retention of plural /s/ only on the first element of plural DPs:

4. Mis abuelo [HBS mis abuelos] grandparent.Ø

‘My grandparents’

5. Las cosa [HBS las cosas] thing.Ø

’The things’

abs dp features1
ABS DP features
  • Lipski (2006) argues that DP features (gender, number) percolate up from the noun to the determiner (Grimshaw 1991; 1997) and eventually to the post-nominal element.
    • Cross-generationally, no case of post-nominal gender concord is found unless pre-nominal elements agree (Lipski 2006: 35):

6. *un curva ancha [HBS una curva ancha]


‘a large curve’(Lipski 2006)

our data
Our Data
  • 944 tokens were extracted from a corpus of recorded interviews with the eldest speakers in the communities of Tocaña and Mururata, North Yungas.
  • The interviews were conductedby letting the speakers talk about any topic of their choice plus follow-up questions:
    • In line with the principle of Tangential Shift (Labov 1984:37), the goal was therefore to attempt to reduce the Observer’s Paradox (Labov 1972) as much as possible.


table 1
Table 1
  • Functional Hypothesis (Kiparsky 1972: 195): phonological elements loaded with a morphological plural value (e.g. casa-s ‘house-s’) should be more resistant to deletion.
  • However, our data show that the opposite is true for ABS
syntax matters
Syntax matters

Our results indicate that the rate of –s ‘omission’ is higher for inflectional instances of –s (see Table 1)

Strictly phonological factors are playing only a limited role.

Supported by the occurrence of plural forms like lu dictador [los dictadores] ‘the dictators’, lu varón [los varones] ‘the males’ without the –e of the Spanish plural morpheme.

ABS –s plural marking variation is syntactic rather than phonological.

table 2
Table 2

Table 2. Contribution of Grammatical Category to the Omission of Plural (s) (Log likelihood = -287.688, Significance = 0.007, N=944)

Results agree with Lipsky’s works: more omission for adjectives than for Ds

abs dp features2
ABS DP features
  • Our data are inline with Lipski’s, but some cases seem to contradict the pre-nominal to post-nominal percolation order.

Number/gender disagreement on strong quantifiers

(despite highest position in the clause)

7. Todolas cosa bonita [HBS todas las cosas bonitas]

all.Ø thing.fem.Ø pretty.fem.Ø

‘all the nice things’

a new approach
A new approach

Percolation cannot account for the data

Formal analysis of variation based on feature presence/absence (Adger & Smith 2005, Adger & Trousdale 2007)

Minimalist program approach to agreement

a formal analysis
A formal analysis
  • In the minimalist framework, agreement is conceived as the result of valuation processes.
  • Number agreement involves the transmission or sharing of features with (normally) nominal origin to other lexical items (adjectives) or to functional elements (determiners, quantifiers), thus accounting for internal concord/agreement in the DP (Chomsky 2000, 2001, 2004; Frampton & Gutmann 2000; Carstens 2000)
features in a formal analysis
Features in a formal analysis
  • The Minimalist Program distinguishes between interpretable and uninterpretable features:
    • Interpretable features have an interpretation at LF or SEM (e.g. tense on V). Really meaningful
    • Uninterpretable features lack semantic import and are present to trigger the necessary merger or agreement operations during the derivation (e.g. number on A) Redundant information
features in a formal analysis1
Features in a formal analysis
  • The Minimalist Program distinguishes between valued and unvalued features:
    • Valued featuresare those that possess a value of the feature
    • Unvalued features are those which await valuation

Operation Agree

A probe lacking feature specification searches for a local –i.e. c-commanded– goal (inside its domain) to undergo agreement

(Chomsky 2000: 101, 134; Chomsky 2001: 12, 15)

Valuation/Interpretability biconditional(Chomsky 2001):

1. Uninterpretable features are unvalued

2. Interpretable features are valued


3. Uninterpretable features must be valued and deleted

feature sharing and multiple agree
Feature sharing and multiple Agree

Feature sharing (Frampton and Gutmann 2000; Pesetsky and Torrego 2004, 2007)

Multiple Agree (Hiraiwa 2001, Carstens 2001, Chomsky 2008: 142)

Necessary to account for multiple expression of a feature inside the DP (as is the norm in Romance, for instance)

Agree (Pesetsky and Torrego 2007:4): valued vs. unvalued

(i) An unvalued feature F (a probe) on a head H at syntactic location (F) scans its c-command domain for another instance of F (a goal) at location (F) with which to agree.

(ii) Replace Fwith F, so that the same feature is present in both locations.

valuation process
Valuation process

Unvalued PROBE

Valued GOAL

Matching feature present

PROBE c-commands GOAL

Result: same feature in both categories

possible feature specifications
Possible feature specifications

uF [ ]: uninterpretable, unvalued feature

iF [ ]: interpretable, unvalued feature

uF [val]: uninterpretable, valued feature

iF [val]: interpretable, valued feature

number features
Number features
  • Number agreement involves uninterpretable features of all items except for Num. Num carries an interpretable feature [num] (Picallo 2008, Pesetsky & Torrego 2007).
  • Nouns carry an uninterpretable valued feature for number [unum: + pl] (Picallo 2008: 59; cf. Zamparelli 2008 for number features)
  • Determiners and adjectives bear an uninterpretable feature for number [unum: ], which is valued after probing and matching the feature on N.
  • Unvalued features probe for valued features to agree with (only unvalued Fs can be probes (Pesetsky & Torrego 2004/2007, Picallo 2008))
formal syntactic variation
Formal syntactic variation

Adger & Smith (2005)

Certain uninterpretable features may be variably present in one category but absent in another.

Being uninterpretable, they would have no semantic repercussion, thus being equally legitimate for a convergent derivation with different phonological outcomes

Variation is reduced to the specification of the uninterpretable features in a derivation (Adger & Smith 2005: 161)

Underspecification of uninterpretable features

→ no-F [ ]

Complies with Brody’s (1997) Radical Interpretability

sociolinguistic factors
Sociolinguistic factors
  • Several (social) factors may affect the item selection:
    • ease of lexical access (probably linked to frequency of use)
    • speaker-hearer relationships
    • social identity, etc.

(Adger & Smith 2005: 164)

a preview of the analysis
A preview of the analysis
  • Certain uninterpretable features may be present in a certain entry but absent in another:

8. Unos amigos

uF[val]…. uF[val]


uF[val].… no-F[]

abs dps


a. [DP lus [NumP guaguasjóvenes]]

  • unum[+pl]……inum[+pl]……………...unum[+pl]

b. [DP lus [NumP guaguasjoven]]

  • unum[+pl]……inum[+pl]….………….no-num[..]

c. [DP lus [NumP guaguajoven]]

  • unum[+pl]…… no-num[..]..…..……[..]

‘The young kids’ (adapted from Lipski 2008: 93)

crosslinguistic evidence
Crosslinguistic evidence

Other languages show impoverished agreement in DP

Amele (Corbett 2000: 137):

11. a. Dana (uqa) hoia


‘The man came’

b. Dana (ale) hosia

man 3.dual came.dual

‘The two men came’

c. Dana (age) hoiga


‘The men came’

other cases
Other cases

Brazilian Portuguese (Braga 1977, Scherre & Naro 1998, 2006; Magalhães 2004; Simioni 2007, among others)

Colloquial French (Rowlett 2007: 19-20): loss of liaison

Cape Verdean Creole (Baptista 2007)

locating i num pl
Locating [inum: +pl]
  • Several recent works point to the interpretability of [num] on D:

1. Magalhães (2004): BP

2. Carvalho (2006): Uruguayan Spanish in contact with Portuguese

  • Support:
    • Abney (1987): DET as I
    • Olsen (1989): German D carries all phi-features
    • Longobardi (1994): [num] on D, not on N
interpretable num on num vs n
Interpretable [num] on Num vs. N

NumP (Ritter 1991, 1995; Picallo 2008)

Hypothesis for variation:

1. Full redundancy [inum: ] on Num + valued on N

2. Only D: [inum: ] on Num, no-F on N + N-to-n-to-Num, feature valued on D after Agree

Variation is located only on the featural content of lexical categories (as expected for variation and change)

Partial valuation due to defective (i.e., missing) phi-feature (Bejar 2003: 61)

Ortmann’s (2000) Principle of economic plural marking

variation in abs dps
Variation in ABS DPs


a. [DP lus [NumP [NP guaguasjóvenes]]

  • unum[+pl]……inum[+pl]……………...unum[+pl]

b. [DP lus [NumP [NP guaguasjoven]]

  • unum[+pl]……inum[+pl]….………….no-num[..]

c. [DP lus [NumP [NP guagua joven]]

  • unum[+pl]……inum no-num[..]..…..……[..]

‘The young kids’ (adapted from Lipski 2008: 93)

Feature [ + pl] (Zamparelli 2008)

full agreement1
Full agreement

Analysis based on Bernstein (1993), Picallo (2008): [num] on Num

Pesetsky & Torrego (2007) suggest that [inum: ] may actually be always located in Num in Spanish

No [inum: ] on N in Spanish

Carstens (2001: 154): N-to-n-to-Num, but not for morphological reasons (no strong feature movement; cf. Alexiadou 2001)

Postnominal APs are located following Demonte (2008: 25, 27)

Agreement between APs and Nfeature sharingNum-A-N (Danon 2008)

overt marking on d only1
Overt marking on D only

Num carries valued [inum: ] from Lexical Array/Numeration (Picallo 2008)

N movement forced by N-feature on n and Num (EPP or categorial F; cf. Alexiadou 2001: 223)

Absence of [num] on A and N eliminates probing

[num] feature is overtly marked on D as affix (materialization of [+ pl] in Spanish in the morphology component). No relevant lexical item in Num for any –s to materialize (N is not eligible; defective, underspecified for [num]).

Feature interpreted once in the chain, as needed (Brody 1997)

restrictions on variation
Restrictions on variation
  • Why not?

12. *[DP el [NP guaguasjóvenes]

No-num[] [+pl] [+pl]

  • Ds always c-command Num and thus, carrying uninterpretable unvalued [num], probe for a goal for agreement. Num carries the necessary features for agreement.
  • Adjectives lower in the tree will require valued features on N to be able to agree with N (via FS)
lack of plural on qs
Lack of plural on Qs
  • Qs project above DP, and thus are not Ds (NP-based analysis of Qs also accounts for lack of agreement: like As)
  • They do not carry specification for [num], like As

13 [QP todo [DP lus [NumP guaguajoven]]]

no-num[..] unum[+pl]…. no-num[..]..…..……[..]

all.Ø boy.Øyoung.Ø

‘All the young boys’

  • In keeping with Ortmann’s (2000) Principle of economic plural marking
semantic number marking
Semantic number marking

Numerals such as tres (three) carry inherent plural features, thus licensing number on semantic grounds. Maybe also for strong quantifiers such as mucho/todo.

Crosslinguistic evidence: Hungarian, Archi (Caucasus), Kurdish, Huanca Quechua, etc. (cf. Ortmann 2000: 252-3)

  • Difference in feature content in the items in the syntactic derivation account for variation
  • Different phonological outputs correspond with one semantic interpretation
  • Variation (like change) is located in the features (cf. Lightfoot 2006, Roberts 2007 for change)
  • Intra-speaker variation can be formalized
  • Variation within the same community and even the same speaker (‘dialect mixing’)
  • Our findings do not pretend to be categorical. Variation is a component of human languages, and our results confirm this fact.
selected references
Selected references

Adger, D. & J. Smith. 2005. Variation and the Minimalist Programme. In Syntax and variation: Reconciling the biological and the social.Cornips, L. & K. P. Corrigan (eds.) Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 149-178.

Adger, D. & G. Trousdale. 2007. Variation in English Syntax: Theoretical Implications. English Language and Linguistics 11:261-278.

Alexiadou, A. 2001. Adjective syntax and noun raising: Word order asymmetries in the DP as the result of adjective distribution. StudiaLinguistica55.3: 217-248.

Carstens, V. 2000. Concord in Minimalist Theory. Linguistic Inquiry 31.2: 319-355.

Carstens, V. 2001. Multiple Agreement and Case-Deletion: Against Φ-(In)Completeness. Syntax 4: 147-163.

Chomsky, N. 2000. Minimalist Inquiries: The Framework. In Step by Step: Essays on Minimalist Syntax in honor of Howard Lasnik. Martin, R., D. Michaels and J. Uriagereka (eds). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. 2001. Derivation by phase. In Ken Hale: A life in language. Kenstowicz, M. (ed.), Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 1-52.

Chomsky, N. 2004. Beyond Explanatory Adequacy. In Structures and Beyond.The Cartography of Syntactic Structure Vol 3. Belletti, A. (ed). Oxford: OUP. 104-131.

Chomsky, N. 2008. On phases. In Foundational Issues in Linguistic Theory: Essays in Honor of Jean-Roger Vergnaud.Freidin, R., C. Otero and M-L. Zubzarreta (eds). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 133-166.

Danon, Gabi. 2008. Definiteness spreading in the Hebrew construct state. Lingua 118.7: 872-906.

Demonte, V. 2008. Meaning-form correlations and adjective position in Spanish. Ms.

Frampton, J. & S. Gutmann. 2000. Agreement is Feature Sharing, ms. Available at <>

Lipski, J. 2006. El dialecto afroyungueño de Bolivia: en busca de las raíces del habla afrohispánica. RILI 3.2: 137-166.

Lipski, J. 2008. Afro-Bolivian Spanish. Madrid/Frankfurt: Iberoamericana/Vervuert.

Ortmann, Albert. 2000. Where plural refuses to agree: feature unification end morphological economy. ActaLinguisticaHungarica47. 1-4: 249-288.

Pesetsky, D. & E. Torrego. 2004. The syntax of valuation and the interpretability of features. Ms

Pesetsky, D. & E. Torrego. 2007. The syntax of valuation and the interpretability of features. The syntax of valuation and the interpretability of features. In Phrasal and Clausal Architecture: Syntactic derivation and interpretation. Karime, S. et al. (eds.). Amsterdam-Philadelphia. John Benjamins. 262-294.

Picallo, M. C. 2008. Gender and number in Romance. Lingue e linguaggioVII.1: 47-66.

Poplack, S. 1979. Function and process in a variable phonology.Ph.D dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Zamparelli, R. 2008. On the interpretability of φ-features”. In The Bantu–Romance Connection. De Cat, C and K. Demuth (eds.), Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 167–199.