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Processing subject focus across two Spanish varieties

Bradley Hoot and Tania Leal ORCID logo
From the journal Probus


Linguists have keenly studied the realization of focus – the part of the sentence introducing new information – because it involves the interaction of different linguistic modules. Syntacticians have argued that Spanish uses word order for information-structural purposes, marking focused constituents via rightmost movement. However, recent studies have challenged this claim. To contribute sentence-processing evidence, we conducted a self-paced reading task and a judgment task with Mexican and Catalonian Spanish speakers. We found that movement to final position can signal focus in Spanish, in contrast to the aforementioned work. We contextualize our results within the literature, identifying three basic facts that theories of Spanish focus and theories of language processing should explain, and advance a fourth: that mismatches in information-structural expectations can induce processing delays. Finally, we propose that some differences in the existing experimental results may stem from methodological differences.


Support for this project was provided by DePaul University’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and University Research Council. We are very grateful to Gemma de Blas and Pilar Prieto, who greatly facilitated data collection. Additionally, we are very thankful to Ana María Fernández Planas, Toni Torres, Mar Cruz Piñol, Cristina Illamola, Andrea Biró, Aaron Feder, Aida Vega Talán, Raquel Serrano, Graciela Cortés Camarillo, Claudia Chapa Cortés, Amira Cámara Cortés, Eduardo Rubio, and Daniel Vázquez Hernández for their help with recruiting participants. Thank you also to Justin Davidson for sharing some recruiting materials and to audiences at the Hispanic Linguistics Symposium for their input. Finally, our sincere gratitude to two anonymous reviewers, whose suggestions greatly improved the paper.


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Published Online: 2020-04-21
Published in Print: 2020-04-28

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