Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Research Article

Subject-to-subject raising and the syntax of tense in L2 Spanish: A Full Access approach  *


a1 Catholic University of America

a2 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

a3 University of Florida


This paper investigates the acquisition of syntax in L2 grammars. We tested adult L2 speakers of Spanish (English L1) on the feature specification of T(ense), which is different in English and Spanish in so-called subject-to-subject raising structures. We present experimental results with the verb parecer “to seem/to appear” in different tenses, with and without experiencers, and with Tense Phrase (TP), verb phrase (vP) and Adjectival Phrase (AP) complements. The results show that advanced L2 learners can perform just like native Spanish speakers regarding grammatical knowledge in this domain, although the subtle differences between both languages are not explicitly taught. We argue that these results support Full Access approaches to Universal Grammar (UG) in L2 acquisition, by providing evidence that uninterpretable syntactic features can be learned in adult L2, even when such features are not directly instantiated in the same grammatical domain in the L1 grammar.

(Received November 06 2011)

(Revised September 09 2012)

(Accepted October 09 2012)

(Online publication December 21 2012)


  • acquisition;
  • syntax;
  • raising;
  • Spanish;
  • English


c1 Address for correspondence: Gonzalo Campos-Dintrans, Modern Languages and Literatures Department, McMahon 402, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064, USA


*  We would like to thank Sam Epstein and William Davies for their interest and suggestions regarding this paper, the audience at SLRF 2009, where the initial experimental results from this project were originally presented. We also thank Joshua Thoms, for help with data collection, Mike Iverson for help with the statistical analysis, and several anonymous reviewers whose suggestions led to improvements in the analysis presented in the paper. Any and all errors and oversights are inadvertent and entirely our own.