Date of Award

August 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Sandra L Pucci

Committee Members

Fred Eckman, Garry Davis, Ann Pycha


acquisition, bilingualism, heritage, language, second language


The present study focuses on Italian as a heritage language spoken in the US by individuals bilingual in Italian and English, exposed to both language since birth. The subjects of the study are the members of six family nuclei, for a total of seven children as heritage speakers of Italian and as input receivers, and 6 parents as native speakers of Standard Italian and as input providers, living in different cities in Wisconsin and Illinois. The study specifically investigates the following structures: a) Gender assignment and gender agreement between determiner, noun and adjective; b) Auxiliary selection in the Italian compound past tense passato prossimo; c) Presence of the contrast between passato prossimo and imperfetto in the same narrative; d) Preferred past tense forms; e) Production of direct objects in the form of clitic or as a full lexical noun; f) Clitic placement in the contexts of use with negative imperative and with modal verbs; and g) Different uses of piacere verb. Eight tasks were administered, divided between oral and written modalities, of which oral tasks are in the form of elicitation, of picture description, of sentence building based on pictures, and of semi-free speech. Written tasks are in the form of forced-choice acceptability, binary acceptability, Yes/No acceptability judgment, and multiple-choice selection task.

The study aims to investigate possible differences and similarities between the heritage language and the language of origin, under the assumption of the heritage grammar as an independent linguistic system with its own set of rules. The findings suggest that the nature of the differences between the two systems doesn't reside only in language performance, but also in language structure. Specifically, systematic differences between the two systems take place in grammatical adomains in which the source language displays degrees of variability and language specific properties. Therefore, these differences represent the heritage speakers’ attempt at regularizing language specific rules.

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