The long-term impact of a sojourn abroad on heritage language learners of Spanish: The case of vosotros versus ustedes

Angela George and Francisco Salgado-Robles


According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (2014), one reason students study abroad is to connect with their heritage. In spite of the growing number of heritage language learners (HLLs) who study abroad, research is needed to determine the impact of study abroad (SA) on this heterogeneous and under-researched group (López-Navarro, 2017; Marijuan & Sanz,

2018) . Additionally, there is an increasing demand for SA programs to accommodate the needs of the growing population of HLLs.

Very little is known about the development of linguistic or sociolingüístic competence of HLLs abroad (Shively, 2018). HLLs who sojourn to nonancestral Spanish-speaking destinations (e.g., a Mexican American HLL of Spanish studying in Spain) are sometimes hesitant to develop regional features, and some of these HLLs have stated that the reason for this is a fear of being ridiculed back home by their family and friends (George & Hoffman-Gonzalez, 2019; Moreno, 2009). While some HLLs produce geographically variable dialectal features while abroad (i.e., George & Hoffman-Gonzalez,

2019) , it is unclear if they continue producing them a year after they return to their home communities. Because participants in the current study remained in contact with their host community via group mobile chats (e.g., WhatsApp), there was some chance to retain features gained while living in the community.

To complicate the matter further, there is no need for HLLs to adopt geographically variable features for communicative purposes or to increase proficiency level. Since the speakers in this study are of Mexican descent and have been raised in the United States, they probably do not use and would not be expected to produce geographically variable features from Spain. However, general awareness of such features and their usage may be beneficial when communicating with speakers who use them.

An additional complexity that this study adds is the long-term impact of international service learning (ISL)2 on the production of geographically variable dialectal features by HLLs. ISL has resulted in the development of such features by second language learners (L2Ls) abroad (i.e., SalgadoRobles, 2018). For example, a short-term effect was found on the production of a geographically variable dialectal feature by HLLs who participated in a four-month SA program with a service-learning (SL) component (Salgado-Robles & George, 2019).

In the next section, we describe the development of geographically variable features by L2Ls and HLLs, the retention of such features gained abroad, and the effects of an added ISL component to the traditional SA program. First, we review previous literature on HLLs abroad, in particular their use of regional features. Then we discuss the development of socio-linguistic competence, or the ability to choose between one or more forms as appropriate to the context given the relationship among the speakers and within society (Bachman, 1990: Canale, 1983; van Ek, 1986). To address this, we examine the acquisition of morphosyntactic geographically variable features by L2Ls in order to expand the review of relevant literature, since so little is available on this topic regarding HLLs abroad. Next we explore the retention of such geographically variable features following a period of time at home after the experience abroad, followed by a discussion of SL, SL abroad, and SL by HLLs both abroad and at home. Finally, we present the feature under study in this chapter in more detail, along with previous studies on this topic. The section ends with the research questions relevant to this study.


Developing regional features abroad

HLLs of Spanish arrive abroad to a language variety that may not match their home dialect, and they can be faced with a decision of adopting features of that variety, maintaining the ones of their home dialect, or some combination of both (Escalante, 2018). While we could consider the development of geographically variable features as second dialect acquisition (see Siegel, 2010), we consider it to be style-shifting and possibly a step toward bidialectalism (cf. Coupland, 2007; Eckert & Rickford, 2001). Siegel (2010) has noted the difficulty in determining if a speaker, whether first or second language, has developed a second dialect, indicating the necessity of distinguishing between two varieties. In the case of our study and previous studies, oftentimes only one feature is measured, making it difficult to determine the type of acquisition. Instead, we confirm that it is a type of optional style-shifting. As Ortega (2013) indicates, “[b]oth [second language and second dialect] learning may position learners as linguistic minorities who learn a socially more powerful language/variety spoken by the surrounding majority speech community” (p. 11). To complicate the matter further, the HLLs in the current study maintained contact with madrileños (i.e., people from Madrid) via mobile group chats upon return, with whom they may wish to style-shift by producing the geographically variable feature

The case of vosotros versus ustedes 35 under study. At the same time, they would not be expected to use this feature with family members.

The majority of the available research on the linguistic development of HLLs abroad does not consist of empirical data based on participants’ speech (Shively, 2016). For example, three studies that discuss the development of geographically variable features by HLLs studying in a Spanishspeaking country are based on self-reported data from participants in both Mexico and Spain, with most participants reporting adopting some features (McLaughlin, 2001; Moreno, 2009; Riegelhaupt & Carrasco, 2000). Studies that utilize production data from HLLs abroad have found higher uses of geographically variable forms by most participants, attributing this mainly to increased contact with local speakers who used these features (Escalante, 2018; George & Hoffman-González, 2019; Salgado-Robles, 2020; Salgado-Robles & George, 2019). More specifically, George and Hoffman-González (2019) investigated two participants’ use of the distinction between /0/ and /s/ in Spain and two participants’ use of sheismo in Argentina. They found that all but one participant in Spain increased their use of these geographically variable patterns, most likely due to closer connections made with speakers of the dialects exhibiting the geographically variable features under study. These connections were made via participating in clubs and internships. Escalante (2018) examined the perception of /s/-aspiration in three HLLs while volunteering abroad in Ecuador. Two participants increased significantly in their perception after one year abroad, whereas the third increased slightly but demonstrated higher rates of /s/-aspiration perception at both times.

Quan, Pozzi, Kehoe, and Menard-Warwick (2018) investigated the identities of three HLLs studying in Argentina, Guatemala, and Spain primarily through interviews and journals. The HLL in Argentina - whose family was of Mexican origin - despite wanting to sound Argentine, did not quite adapt to this new dialect, and by the end of his 11-week sojourn in Mendoza he returned to sounding Mexican American. The HLL in Córdoba, Spain, reported using lexical items from the region, but not vosotros, in spite of sounding Latin American to others. The HLL in Guatemala reinforced her Honduran roots and embraced the regional variety, but it is unclear whether or how her accent changed. These three HLLs demonstrate how some are more willing to use common geographically variable features and some others are not, leaving unclear what happens after the return home.

Salgado-Robles and George (2019) investigated the effects of a servicelearning component on HLLs participating in a four-month SA program in Spain. The results showed an increased use of vosotros for the participants with the SL component. The participants in the SL-enhanced group also reported significantly more contact with madrileños - a finding that was supported by their increased use of vosotros and decreased use of ustedes during the four months abroad. In addition to production, one study has found that HLLs of Spanish demonstrate greater awareness of languagevariation common to the Castilian speech community in an SA context (López-Navarro, 2017). In a similar vein, a relationship between the type of SA program (SL-enhanced or traditional), intercultural competence, and increased use of leísmo by Spanish HLLs after one semester in Madrid was found in Salgado-Robles (2020). An additional study found similar increases in awareness of the linguistic diversity of certain varieties of Spanish in three HLLs in Spain, Argentina, and Guatemala (Quan et al., 2018). These studies show that HLLs are perceptive to geographically variable dialects but may exhibit resistance to adopting geographically variable features for a variety of reasons, which could include a desire to assert their identity by maintaining their original dialect, the inappropriateness of using a feature not typically included in their home dialect, and a fear of being ridiculed by their home community.

Because research on the development of geographically variable mor-phosyntactic features of HLLs abroad is rather scarce, we now turn to a discussion of the research on the development of these features by both HLLs and L2Ls abroad. This research has included studies on the development of the present perfect versus preterit, synthetic versus periphrastic future, vosotros versus ustedes, leísmo, and laísmo. Studies have mainly focused on L2Ls abroad, with the exception of Salgado-Robles and George (2019) and Salgado-Robles (2020), who focused on HLL development of the distinction between vosotros and ustedes, and leísmo, respectively.

Regarding the use of variable past time,3 Geeslin, Fafulas, and Kanwit (2013) and Whatley (2013) found that in spite of individual variation, some L2Ls approached native-like norms of usage and predictors of use after only seven weeks abroad in Spain or Mexico. Concerning the variable uses that represent future time, Kanwit and Solon (2013) found that L2Ls abroad in both Mexico and Spain approached target-like norms for the present indicative use of the future but overgeneralized the use of the periphrastic future in both Spain and Mexico, as well as the use of the synthetic feature in Mexico. Regarding variable object pronoun use, studies investigating laísmo and leísmo in learners studying in Spain have shown movement toward regional target-like norm usage (Geeslin, Garcia-Amaya, Hasler-Barker, Henriksen, & Killam, 2010; Salgado-Robles, 2011, 2014a, 2014b, 2018; Salgado-Robles & Ibarra, 2012). These studies indicate a shift in usage of geographically variable features by L2Ls abroad along with individual variation.

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