Bilingual Verbs In Three Spanish/English Code-Switching Communities

Document Type


Publication Date





Objectives/Research Questions: We investigate two understudied bilingual compound verbs that have been attested in Spanish/English code-switching; namely, ‘hacer + VInf’ and ‘estar + VProg’. Specifically, we examined speakers’ intuitions vis-à-vis the acceptability and preferential use of non-canonical and canonical hacer ‘to do’ or estar ‘to be’ bilingual constructions among bilinguals from Northern Belize, New Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Methodology: Speakers from Northern Belize (n = 44), New Mexico (n = 32) and Puerto Rico (n = 30) completed a two-alternative forced-choice acceptability task and a language background questionnaire.

Data and Analysis: The data were examined using an analysis of variance and Thurstone’s Law of Comparative Judgment.

Conclusions: Whereas Northern Belizean bilinguals gave the highest ratings to ‘hacer + VInf’, both groups of US bilinguals gave preferential ratings to ‘estar + VProg’ bilingual constructions. On the other hand, Puerto Rican bilinguals gave the highest preferential ratings to the canonical estar bilingual compound verbs (i.e. estar + an English progressive verb) but rejected hacer bilingual compound verbs. While ‘hacer + VInf’ and ‘estar + VProg’ may represent variants that are available to Spanish/English bilinguals, the present findings suggest a community-specific distribution, in which hacer bilingual compound verbs are consistently preferred over estar bilingual compound verbs in Northern Belize, whereas estar bilingual constructions are preferred among US bilinguals.

Originality:This is the first cross-community examination of these bilingual compound verbs in Northern Belize (Central America/Caribbean), New Mexico (Southwest US) and Puerto Rico (US/Caribbean), three contexts in the Spanish-speaking world characterized by long-standing Spanish/English language contact and the use of bilingual language practices.

Implications:Findings underscore the importance of bilingual language experience in modulating linguistic competence and the necessity to study code-switching from a language ecological perspective, as subtle context-specific patterns in code-switching varieties may be manifested not only in bilingual speakers’ oral production but in intuition as well. A more fine-grained understanding of speakers’ judgments is vital to experimental studies that seek to investigate code-switching grammars both within and across communities where code-switching varieties of the same language pair are spoken.

Publication Title

International Journal of Bilingualism

Find in your library