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Contextual dependency and overuse of estar in the acquisition of Spanish copula verbs

Aveledo, F. ORCID:, Sanchez-Alonso, S. and Piñango, M. M. (2022) Contextual dependency and overuse of estar in the acquisition of Spanish copula verbs. First Language, 42 (5). pp. 649-669. ISSN 0142-7237

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1177/01427237221100913


The delayed acquisition of Spanish ser and estar is generally understood as rooted in the cognitive demands imposed by the integration of semantic-pragmatic and world-knowledge factors associated with their lexical meanings. Here we ask (1) what is the nature of this language world-knowledge integration? and (2) what is the developmental trajectory including its age distribution? We examine Spanish copula production and comprehension in 142 children (age range: 4–12years) and 26 adults. Using two tasks, sentence-selection (comprehension) and sentence repetition (production), we test the hypothesis that estar use is constrained by an ability to construe an alternative to the explicit predication; an ability that develops with life experience. We test estar/ser use in two contexts: alternative-supporting, favoring estar use; and alternative-neutral, neutral regarding estar use, and possibly favoring ser use. The results show that for comprehension, children do not reveal adult-level sensitivity to context, exhibiting instead over-selection of estar sentences. For production, all children over-produce the estar sentence, even after having just chosen the ser counterpart. However, in this task, the 10- to 12-year-olds do behave similarly to adults and differently from 4- to 6-year-olds, consistent with our hypothesis. Alternative construal requires exposure to entities and properties in a variety of situations; exposure that older children are more likely to exhibit. Collectively, these results (1) support the properties of estar use hypothesized to underlie the language-world-knowledge integration, and (2) delineate a potential developmental trajectory whereby mastery of the copula may not begin to manifest until 10–12years of age, not because of any one linguistic factor but rather due to specific world-knowledge exposure constraints.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Language and Applied Linguistics
ID Code:105854
Publisher:SAGE Publications


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