When Articles Go Missing: Analyzing Optionality in Spanish Prepositional Relative Clauses

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This thesis project presents a comprehensive overview of article optionality in Spanish prepositional relative clauses. This definite article, which is part of the operator phrase, is subject to a complex pattern of variation that regulates whether it can be present or absent in a given phrase. Through a mixture of experimental and formal analysis, this project investigates (i) the syntactic and semantic factors that influence the presence or absence of the article and (ii) the role of the article within the syntactic structure of Spanish prepositional relative clauses. A corpus study found that the article was significantly more likely to be absent when the antecedent of the relative clause was definite, inanimate, or plural, or when the embedded clause was not negated. In addition to these factors, a significant effect of preposition and an interaction between definiteness and the preposition en, which had not been attested in the literature, were found. Subsequently, an acceptability judgement task conducted on eighty-eight Mexican Spanish speakers showed higher acceptability ratings for article presence, definite antecedent, and the preposition en. The en:Definiteness interaction was replicated in post-hoc testing. Based on these results, I present a modified version of Cinque’s (2020) double-headed structure. I propose that prepositional relative clauses without the article follow Cinque’s matching analysis-like derivation, while those with the article contain a larger relative operator with a [+specific] feature, thus avoiding deletion. This project presents an updated understanding of an under-researched area of Spanish grammar. It provides empirical support to the claim that the presence or absence of the article is not a matter of free variation, and makes headway on identifying the factors that mediate the presence or absence of the article, as well as the mechanisms that underlie them.
linguistics, syntax, experimental syntax, prepositional relative clauses, article alternation, Spanish, Acceptability Judgement Task, Spanish syntax
Levinstein Rodriguez, A. (2022). When articles go missing: analyzing optionality in Spanish prepositional relative clauses (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from https://prism.ucalgary.ca.