Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Mood Selection: A Look at Northern Nevada Latinos

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Mood Selection: A Look at Northern Nevada Latinos

Article excerpt


This study investigates the stability of Spanish among various Spanish-speaking generations of Latinos in Reno, Nevada by studying mood selection. The goal of the study is two-fold: 1) to present an empirical analysis of Spanish subjunctive use, and 2) to determine whether simplification of the subjunctive is a sign of language loss. Twenty-four bilingual Spanish speakers from three generations participated. Data from this study will contribute findings to the area of Spanish-language use in the lesser-researched non-cosmopolitan regions of the US.


Sociolinguistic research on the stability of a minority language in a "dual" language community most often will examine the production of linguistic features that are defined as having variable use among monolingual speakers of that minority language. The basic hypothesis of the stability of minority language is that "loss" of a language most likely occurs when there are signs of language simplification among the second and third generation speakers of the minority language. As defined by Silva-Corvalan (1995), if first-generation speakers of Spanish favor certain discourse-pragmatic contexts for the occurrence of a form and the same favoring contexts fail to elicit the expected forms in the speech of those in the second and third-generations, the forms in question are considered to be undergoing simplification (p. 25).

The present study analyzes the process of change that affects the use of the Spanish language mood selection among the different generations of adult Spanish speakers in Reno, Nevada. Past linguistic researchers (Guitart 1982, Ocampo 1990, Silva-Corvalan 1995, Struderus 1995, Montrul 2005, among others) suggest that there is a simplification of subjunctive usage by United States Spanish speakers among the second and third-generations, whereas Torres (1997) suggests that the use of the subjunctive mood among these different generations do not significantly differ during natural conversational speech. Torres questions the methodology of previous research stating that the results may be erroneous due to researchers' reliance on impressions, translation tasks, grammaticality judgment tests, and fill-in tests. The difference in Torres' findings and the findings of the previously mentioned researchers may also suggest that each community is unique and tendencies found in one Spanish-speaking community in the US can not be generalized.

To date, there are no studies that examine the sociolinguistic or linguistic stability of the Spanish language in the state of Nevada, a region with a rapidly growing and fairly large Latino community. Therefore, the goal of the present study is two-fold: 1) to present an empirical analysis of the use of the Spanish subjunctive among three generations, and 2) to determine whether the simplification of the Spanish subjunctive is a sign of language loss in the community.

Background: Mood selection

In the Spanish language, the indicative and subjunctive mood is expressed by means of inflectional morphology. Mood selection is governed by syntactic and semantic factors; these mood choices occur only in the linguistic environment of subordinate clauses (Terrell & Hooper, 1974). The three syntactic environments in which the subjunctive may occur are in nominal, adjectival, or adverbial clauses. Indicative and subjunctive mood in nominal clauses can be lexically or semantically selected. Lexically selected moods concern volitional predicates as in

   Quiero que estudies para el examen manana.
   'I want you to study-SUBJ for tomorrow's exam.'

where the subjunctive is obligatory. However, mood selection in nominal clauses is variable when the speaker who uses the subjunctive has done so in order to communicate a lesser degree of assertiveness. One such case involves clauses embedded under an expression of a subjective reaction and is presupposed to be true, as in

   Es bueno que Juan sepa/sabe hablar japones. … 
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