Subject-verb word order in Spanish interrogatives
A quantitative analysis of Puerto Rican Spanish
We conduct a quantitative analysis of conversational speech from native speakers of Puerto Rican Spanish to test whether optional non-inversion of subjects in wh-questions (¿qué tú piensas?) is indicative of a movement in Spanish from flexible to rigid word order (Morales 1989; Toribio 2000). We find high rates of subject expression (51%) and a strong preference for SV word order (47%) over VS (4%) in all sentence types, in line with assertions of fixed SVO word order. The usage-based examination of 882 wh-questions shows non-inversion occurs in 14% of the cases (25% of wh-questions containing an overt subject). Variable rule analysis reveals subject, verb and question type significantly constrain interrogative word order, but we find no evidence that word order is predicted by perseveration. SV word order is highest in rhetorical and quotative questions, revealing a pathway of change through which word order is becoming fixed in this variety.
Keywords: language change, word order, Caribbean Spanish, interrogative constructions
Published online: 05 July 2011
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