The effect of animacy on object pronoun distinctions in L2 Spanish
When acquiring Spanish object pronouns (OP), English-speaking second language (L2) learners must learn the variety of forms available, word order, and case distinctions. The acquisition of case distinctions in particular is an aspect that has not been thoroughly investigated. Zyzik (2006) showed, through production tasks, that English-speaking L2 Spanish learners overgeneralize the dative form to accusative contexts when the referent is animate. This study investigates how L2 learners use animacy (human, animal, and inanimate object) instead of case marking as cues to interpret and produce L2 Spanish object pronouns. Data from an interpretation task and a fill-in-the-blank production task were collected from 121 intermediate to advanced levels of Spanish learners. Results from linear mixed effects models reveal that learners show effects of the influence of animacy on object pronoun distinction in comprehension as well as production. A key new finding is that learners use the dative form with human referents, reserving accusative forms for animals and inanimate referents. These results provide evidence that animacy cues strongly influence L2 Spanish learners in the formation of their OP paradigm, especially at lower-proficiency levels. As proficiency increases, L2 learners begin to rely on case cues to distinguish Spanish OPs.