Vol. 153 (2007) ► pp.25–51
The Sla of Variable Structures
Analyzing Obligatory and Variable Contexts
This study examines the acquisition of copula choice, more particularly the contrast between ser and estar ('to be') in Spanish by native speakers of Portuguese. Our research differs from previous work because the first language of the participants included also contains a copula contrast. Our previous analysis of data collected in adult L1 Spanish and Portuguese L2 Spanish, and data collected in Portuguese from adult L1 Portuguese, demonstrated important differences between these groups (Geeslin & Guijarro-Fuentes, 2006). The frequency of copula selection can be seen to be a result of L1 transfer, but the predictors of copula choice do not transfer directly from L1 to the L2. We argue that one of the key focuses of investigation should be the distinction between obligatory and variable contexts (Geeslin & Guijarro-Fuentes, 2004). Moreover, one must examine the linguistic features associated with variation between these three groups. In response, the current study analyzes those contexts where copula selection is unanimous for some or all of the participants in contrast with those where all speakers exhibit variation. We aim to determine whether or not those contexts that allow variation are the source of differences between the natives and the non-natives. This study is of general interest not only to those working on L2 Spanish, but also to the growing body of research on the acquisition of variable structures in SLA.