Languages in Contact: Why do they Matter in the Second Language Classroom?

When and Where

Friday, February 18, 2022 2:00 pm to 3:15 pm
Online, Zoom


Alma Ramírez Trujillo


Join us for another guest lecture on pedagogical issues of language teaching and learning, with our special guest Dr. Alma Ramírez Trujillo.

About the Presentation
It is very well known that second language learners have problems with the realization of bound inflectional morphology. For example, tense marking, which is sometimes omitted or wrongly supplied (Lardiere, 1998: White, 2003). Variability in the suppliance of (correct) inflectional morphology or morphological variability has been attributed to two main reasons. On the one hand, some authors say that it is a consequence of impaired or deficient syntactic representations (e.g. Hawkins & Chan, 1997; Clahsen 1988). They argue that there is an impairment that may involve a failure to acquire ‘new’ features, feature strengths, or functional projections in a second language. On the other hand, it is considered that syntactic representations are present, but variability surfaces due to performance limitations resulting from communication pressure (Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis; Prévost & White 2000).

In this presentation I will examine the production of subject/verb agreement in L2 Spanish of Nahutatl L1 speakers. The contact between Spanish and Nahuatl is a particularly fruitful area of study because it involves two very different languages. Spanish is a Romance language that differs only minimally from other Romance and even Indoeuropean languages.  Nahuatl, spoken by about a million speakers in central Mexico, is a polysynthetic language with what appears to be free word order, subject and object agreement marked on the verb, and noun incorporation (MacSwan 1998; Bruhn de Garavito, Herrera Herrera & Holtzrichter 2005). I will be looking at these two languages with a focus on language change, however L2 acquisition and bilingualism are both involved because my informants consider themselves to be L2 speakers of Spanish, although they also admit to having been in contact with Spanish most of their lives.

I will focus on whether age of acquisition is the determining factor in the production of agreement, or whether quantity and quality of input are. Results will show that there was no difference in the rate or type of error according to age of acquisition, but there was an important difference in rate between those participants who had little or no contact with standard Spanish and those that had a great deal due to the fact that they had to leave the village in order to find work. In light of the debate on whether problems with morphology are evidence for a deficit at the functional level in second language acquisition, these results are taken as evidence against a deficit in adult second language acquisition. Why do languages in contact matter in the foreign language classroom? I will show how topics of language contact and language change are relevant in the second language classroom and how they could benefit the teaching methodologies that instructors apply.

About the Presenter
Dr. Ramírez Trujillo is an Associate Professor of World Languages & Culture at Bridgewater College. Her research focuses on Second Language Acquisition, languages in contact, bilingualism and linguistic anthropology. She has also published her research on Nahuatl / Spanish bilingualism as chapters in books and journals such as Hispania.


Contact Information


Department of Spanish & Portuguese