Svenja Schmid

Why-interrogatives in Italian heritage speakers: at the interface between syntax and discourse

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The syntax-discourse interface is generally considered to be vulnerable to crosslinguistic influence in a language contact situation (Sorace 2011). However, some recent work casts doubt on this general claim and shows that heritage speakers (HSs) do not always face difficulties with respect to linguistic structures at this interface (Leal et al. 2014; Hoot 2017). The present study contributes to this debate by analyzing an understudied structure in Italian heritage language (HL) research, namely word order variation in ‘why’-interrogatives. In contrast to other Italian wh-interrogatives, word order in ‘why’-interrogatives requires the integration of both syntactic and pragmatic information because focus affects the subject position. I compare 30 Italian HSs with German as majority language (ML) to an Italian monolingual control group (N=30). The results of an acceptability judgment task show no differences between the HSs and the monolinguals with respect to focus-related word order variation in Italian ‘why’-interrogatives, even for infrequent word order patterns. Thus, this study indicates that HSs do not have particular difficulties integrating information at the syntax-discourse interface.


  • why’
  • -interrogatives
  • word order variation
  • focus
  • Interface Hypothesis
  • syntax-discourse interface


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