Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Incomplete acquisition and attrition of Spanish tense/aspect distinctions in adult bilinguals

Silvina Montrul a1c1
a1 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


This study investigates whether age of onset of bilingualism has an effect on ultimate attainment, and documents incomplete acquisition and attrition of tense/aspect morphology in Spanish. A group of 20 monolingual Spanish speakers, 31 US-born bilinguals, and 8 Latin America-born bilinguals participated in the study. Sixteen of the US-born participants were simultaneous bilinguals who had been exposed to Spanish and English from ages 0 to 3, the remaining 15 learned English between ages 4 to 7 (early child L2 learners), and the Latin-America-born bilinguals learned English between 8 and 12 years of age (late child L2 learners). Results of an oral production, a written completion, and two meaning-interpretation tasks showed that the simultaneous bilingual and the early child L2 groups differed significantly from monolingual Spanish speakers, while only a few individuals in the late child L2 group showed erosion with some aspects. Results suggest that morpho-phonological spell-outs and semantic features of functional categories are affected by incomplete acquisition and language loss, and that many of the patterns of divergence found resemble stages of second language acquisition.

c1 Address for correspondence: Silvina Montrul, Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 4080 Foreign Languages Building, MC-176, 707 South Mathews Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801, USA. E-mail: