Volume 4 (2013) Issue 1 - Article Mumin
JLLT Volume 4 (2013) Issue 1.pdf

Journal of Linguistics and Language Teaching

Volume 4 (2013) Issue 1 (PDF)

pp. 97 - 121

Demystifying the Morphosyntax of the Spanish Relative Pronouns: lo que, que, and quien(es)

Zahir Mumin (Albany, New York (USA))

Abstract (English)

Novice-level native English-speaking students who learn Spanish as a Second Language (L2) face the daunting task of differentiating between the following three relative pronouns: lo que, que, and quien(es). Their inability to discern between these relative pronouns is further exacerbated by their tendency to associate L1 English relative pronouns (that, which, who, whom, and what) with L2 Spanish relative pronouns. Ozete (1981) contends that students should first be simultaneously exposed to common differences between que and quien(es) before they learn about the morphosyntactic functionality of lo que because of their prior knowledge about using conjunctions and prepositions. Powers (1984) argues that animate and inanimate antecedents of non-restrictive relative clauses play a vital role in appropriate relative pronoun selection. Escudero (2011) claims that the prescriptive and descriptive presentation of relative pronoun grammar rules greatly impacts L2 Spanish acquisition. While taking these major arguments into consideration, this paper presents a new conceptual model and an interlanguage hierarchy so as to facilitate the L2 acquisition of the Spanish relative pronouns lo que, que, and quien(es). Through an applied linguistics analysis of these relative pronouns, it is here argued that negative L1 English transfer (in cases of lo que, que, and quien(es)); the noun of the independent clause (in cases of quien and que), which represents the subject, direct object or indirect object in Spanish; and the verb of the independent clause (in cases of lo que), which represents the subject in Spanish, substantially affect the way native-English speakers acquire Spanish relative pronouns.

Key words: relative pronouns, Spanish, L2 acquisition, morphosyntax, applied linguistics, L1 English transfer

Abstract (Español)

Los alumnos angloparlantes de nivel inicial que aprenden español como segunda lengua (L2) se enfrentan a la tarea desalentadora de diferenciar entre los siguientes tres pronombres relativos: lo que, que, y quien(es). Su incapacidad para discernir entre estos pronombres relativos se exacerba aún más por la tendencia a asociar los pronombres relativos del inglés (L1) (that, which, who, whom, and what) con los pronombres relativos del español (L2). Ozete (1981) contiende que primero a los alumnos se les debe exponer simultáneamente a las diferencias comunes entre que y quienes antes de que aprendan sobre la funcionalidad morfosintáctica de lo que por su conocimiento previo acerca de usar conjunciones y preposiciones. Powers (1984) discute que los antecedentes animados e inanimados de cláusulas relativas no restrictivas desempeñan un papel vital en la selección apropiada de pronombres relativos. Escudero (2011) asegura que la presentación prescriptiva y descriptiva de las reglas gramaticales de pronombres relativos influye sumamente en la adquisición del español (L2). Mientras se tienen en cuenta estos argumentos principales, este trabajo presenta un modelo conceptual nuevo y una jerarquía de interlenguaje para facilitar la adquisición (L2) de los pronombres relativos del español: lo que, que, y quien(es). Mediante un análisis de lingüística aplicada de estos pronombres, se discute aquí que la transferencia negativa del inglés (L1) (en casos de lo que, que, y quien(es)); el sustantivo de la cláusula independiente (en casos de quien y que) que representa el sujeto, objeto directo u objeto indirecto en español; y el verbo de la cláusula independiente (en casos de lo que) que representa el sujeto en español afectan sustancialmente la manera en la cual los alumnos angloparlantes adquieren los pronombres relativos del español.

Palabras clave: pronombres relativos, español, adquisición (L2), morfosintaxis, lingüística aplicada, transferencia del inglés (L1)

1 Introduction

An obvious lack of research has been conducted on native English-speaking students’ L2 Spanish acquisition of the relative pronouns lo que, que, and quien(es). The grammatical explanations and examples used in a lot of widely disseminated textbooks are useful (Levy-Konesky & Dagget 2004, Martínez-Lage, Gutiérrez & Rosser 2006, de la Fuente, Martín Paris & Sans 2012, Hershberger, Navey-Davis & Borras A. 2012), but they do not supplement these explanations and examples with detailed linguistic analyses that can facilitate the acquisition of these relative pronouns. For example, Donley & Blanco (2006) employ the following example to emphasize the frequency prominence of que as it is used in reference to people, places, or things:

(1) El hombre que sirve la comida se llama Diego.[1]

The man who serves the food is named Diego. (Donley & Blanco 2006: 206)

This example could be enhanced with a more in-depth linguistic-oriented approach in order to address how animate and inanimate objects and restrictive and non-restrictive clauses may affect the use of the relative pronoun que. Students are usually not aware that the restrictive subordinate clause que sirve la comida, which modifies the animate noun subject El hombre, requires the use of que in order to specify that the man being referenced is the only possible man who serves food.

Lo que is also very problematic for novice L2 Spanish learners, especially when it appears between two verbs:

(2) No entiendo lo que dice.

I don’t understand what he is saying. (Zayas-Bazan, Bacon & Nibert 2008: 336)

In this example, students are not exposed to a linguistic-oriented explanation that could facilitate their understanding of why lo que is used instead of que. Lo que introduces the subordinate clause lo que dice and new information which modifies the abstract situation expressed by the verb / subject of the independent clause no entiendo. Que cannot be used in this case because its relative pronoun function cannot directly correlate what is not understood and what is being said. The relative pronoun function of que modifies a subject / noun or a direct object / noun of an independent clause without modifying an abstract situation (Liceras 1986, Escobar 1997). For example, in (1), the relative pronoun function of que of the relative clause que sirve la comida modifies the subject / noun El hombre of the independent clause El hombre se llama Diego.

This paper parses the morphosyntactic complexities of lo que, que, and quien(es); provides a conceptual model for teaching and learning these relative pronouns; and furnishes an interlanguage hierarchy of relative pronoun acquisition. While discussing these three components, the paper intends to spark future research that offers more insight concerning the acquisition of relative pronouns.

2 Literature Review

Providing a clear definition of the term relative pronoun is fundamental for L2 Spanish learners’ relative pronoun decision-making processes. Most textbooks, such as Donley & Blanco (2006), Knorre et al. (2008), and Zayas-Bazán, Bacon & Nibert (2008), define a relative pronoun as a pronoun which integrates two clauses that share a noun or a pronoun. Although this definition is useful in assisting the L2 acquisition of Spanish relative pronouns, more information is needed with regard to the grammatical structure of independent and dependent clauses. An array of research studies that examine the acquisition of Spanish relative pronouns do not provide a clear definition of the term relative pronoun and focus on potential rules or principles for relative pronoun selection (Knapp Jones 1948, Veciana 1980-1981, Carreiras & Clifton 1993, Cabrera Morales 1994). The dictionary of the Real Academia Española (2010: pp. 1251) defines a relative pronoun as a pronoun that “…tiene un antecedente, expreso o implícito” (“has an antecedent, explicit or implicit”). A clearer definition of the term relative pronoun arises from Bilyeu’s (2004) examination of English relative pronouns (e.g. who, whom, which, that, and what) which often crosslinguistically represent the Spanish relative pronouns lo que, que, and quien(es) in different contextual situations. She defines a relative pronoun as an element of a sentence which gives more information about a previously mentioned noun or pronoun. Bilyeu (2004) exemplifies this definition with the following English language example of that which—in this specific case—carries the equivalent relative pronoun function of que in Spanish:

(3) The guitar that Joe wanted had already been sold.

La guitarra que Joe quería ya había sido vendida.[2] (Bilyeu 2004: 21)

In English, the relative pronoun that introduces the restrictive relative clause that Joe wanted which furnishes more information about the guitar. In Spanish, the relative pronoun que initiates the restrictive relative clause que Joe quería which gives additional information regarding the guitar. While all of the aforementioned definitions are useful for L2 learners, the following definition to supplement these with a linguistic-oriented approach to the examination of relative pronouns is offered here:

A relative pronoun is a post pronoun that relativizes a dependent clause in order to modify a noun, pronoun, or an abstract situation in an independent clause by providing new or additional information.

A common approach to explicating the morphosyntactic intricacies of Spanish relative pronouns arises from Knapp Jones’ (1948) examination of relative pronouns such as loque, que, and quien(es) in dissimilar contextual situations. He envisages que as a predominant relative pronoun that interacts with animate and inanimate antecedents and functions in restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. However, Knapp Jones (1948) counteracts this point of view when comparing the use of que in a restrictive clause to quien in a non-restrictive clause:

(4) El dueño de la casa que está mala quiere venderla. [restrictive]

The owner of the home that is bad[3] wants to sell it.[4] (Knapp Jones 1948: 402)

(5) El dueño de la casa, quien está malo, quiere venderla. [non-restrictive]

The owner of the home, who is bad[5], wants to sell it.[6] (Knapp Jones 1948: 402)

The author contends that the restrictive clause in (4) requires the use of que as it refers to a thing and that the non-restrictive clause in (5) requires the use of quien as it refers to a person. There is still widespread debate regarding the author’s argument in support of the use of quien in (5) because que is also used in the non-restrictive clause to denote an antecedent animate noun (Seco 1973, Hernández Alonso 1982, Álvarez Martínez 1986, Cortés Rodríguez 1987, Montrul 2004, Donley & Blanco 2006). To help students differentiate (4) from (5), teachers should first illuminate the different English relative pronouns that (referring to the immediately preceding noun home (casa) and who (referring to the most distant preceding noun owner (dueño). Because that and who can be represented by one Spanish relative pronoun (i.e. que) in this case, L2 learners’ acquisition is facilitated by the use of que in both examples although it is appropriate to remind them of the possible use of quien in non-restrictive clauses.

In an attempt to ameliorate L2 learners’ struggles with relative pronouns, Ozete (1981) expounds on Knapp Jones’s investigation by examining Spanish relative pronouns in fifteen different novice-level tertiary textbooks. Ozete (1981) endorses the analysis of que in contexts where article + que and article + cual structures may be optionally used. He argues that, in non-restrictive clauses, article + que and article + cual relative pronoun structures are often used instead of que or quien when referring to animate or inanimate antecedents:

(6) Los niños, que están fuera, juegan bien. [non-restrictive]

Los niños, los que [los cuales] están fuera, juegan bien.

Los niños, quienes están fuera, juegan bien.

The children, who are outside, play well.[7] (Ozete 1981: 90)

(7) Los niños que están afuera juegan bien. [restrictive]

The children who [or that] are outside play well.[8] (Ozete 1981: 90)

Example (6) clearly shows a discrepancy between tertiary-level textbooks (Salaberry, Barrette, Elliot & Fernández-García 2004, Martínez-Lage, Gutiérrez & Rosser 2006, Young, Berne, Muirhead & Montoya 2011) and authentic Spanish language use as these textbooks do not broaden students’ knowledge of Spanish relative pronouns by exposing them to multiple options in a given structural context. A cross-linguistic examination of (6) and (7) is necessary in order to enlighten L2 learners about the negative influence of L1 English in relation to English itself and Spanish. This influence may cause students to employ that as a relative pronoun in the non-restrictive English clause in (6) which creates an ungrammatical English sentence according to standard grammar norms: *The children, that are outside, play well. This is because that is usually employed in restrictive clauses in order to limit the meaning of the noun that it modifies (Givon 1979, 1983, 1984, Newby 1987, Radford 1997, Lester & Beason 2004). In (7), negative L1 English transfer may puzzle L2 learners as they often equate the Spanish relative pronoun quien to the English relative pronoun who in all structural contexts: Los niños quienes están fuera juegan bien*. However, the relative pronoun modification of the subject Los niños requires the use of que (Solé & Solé 1977, DeMello 1993, Gili Gaya 2002, Zagona 2002). In order to facilitate L2 learners’ acquisition of the use of que in this restrictive context, it is helpful to structurally divide the components of the sentence: Los niños (the subject), que están fuera (the restrictive relative clause), and juegan bien (the independent clause which has a verb that represents the subject).

Unlike Knapp Jones (1948) and Ozete (1981), Powers (1984) examines native Spanish-speakers’ use of Spanish relative pronouns in order to develop prescriptive L2 pedagogical rules for employing these pronouns in sixteen different structural environments. Powers (1984) illustrates the complexity of preposition + que structures by examining different relative pronouns that may be used after monosyllabic prepositions such as en and con:

(8) Es un hombre en ________ tengo confianza.

He is a man in whom I have confidence.[9] (Powers 1984: 84)

(9) Esos señores con ________ cenaremos son famosos profesores europeos.

Those gentlemen with whom we will eat dinner are famous European professors.[10]

(Powers 1984: 84)

The author analyzes native Spanish speakers’ responses to these examples and other similar examples by using Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). Powers (1984: pp. 84) concludes that native speakers are more likely to use various forms of either el que (i.e. el que, los que, la que, las que) and el cual (i.e. el cual, los cuales, la cual, las cuales) instead of que in these cases of antecedent monosyllabic prepositions. However, he does not discuss how the optional use of quien in (8) and quienes in (9) could facilitate L2 learners’ acquisition process. The common employment of quien(es) right after monosyllabic prepositions when there is an animate antecedent is well documented in both textbooks (Levy-Konesky & Dagget 2004, Knorre et al. 2008, Caycedo Garner, Rusch & Domínguez 2011, Amores, Suárez-García & Morris 2012) and research literature (Veciana 1980-1981, Veciana 1981, Alonso Megido 1991, Gili Gaya 2002) . The negative L1 English transfer of the relative pronoun which as in *He is a man in which I have confidence[11] may discourage learners from using quien(es) as a viable option because of the tendency to equalize the general literal equivalent of which to the different Spanish forms of el que and el cual. On the other hand, the positive L1 English transfer of whom facilitates the acquisition of L2 quien(es) in monosyllabic preposition + que/quien(es) structures.

In this section, prior research regarding the L2 acquisition of Spanish relative pronouns in relation to English relative pronouns has been detailed. I have also provided suggestions for facilitating the L2 acquisition of Spanish relative pronouns.

3 Conceptual Model and Interlanguage Hierarchy

In order to help instructors and students differentiate between the Spanish relative pronouns lo que, que, and quien(es), the author has developed a new conceptual model which simplifies how Spanish relative pronoun clauses modify nouns and abstract situations of independent clauses. This model is not intended to be a generativist rule-based model because its design conceptualizes the process of appropriate relative pronoun selection without denoting the selection of relative pronouns as a categorical process. The model may be useful for analyzing the relative pronoun selection in other languages because of crosslinguistic commonalities of language structures and morphosyntactic meaning.

Figure 1: Conceptual Model and Interlanguage Hierarchy

This model is structured in a hierarchical manner starting from the most abstract relative pronoun (lo que) and ending at the least abstract relative pronoun (quien(es)) of the three. Lo que is more abstract than que and quien(es) because it modifies the circumstances of a situation and not a specific linguistic element. Que is less abstract than lo que because it modifies a specific linguistic element (i.e. noun) in the independent clause which is a subject or object. Quien(es) is the least abstract relative pronoun because it is limited to modifying animate nouns that are human beings. Within each section of the model, the general use of each relative pronoun is briefly explicated in order to facilitate students’ understanding of relative pronoun selection. Below, an interlanguage hierarchy for the L2 acquisition of the relative pronouns lo que, que, and quien(es) is presented. This hierarchy includes other common relative pronouns (e.g. el que / los que) which bolster the content of the concept model and provide instructors with a useful resource for teaching relative pronoun clauses.

Stage 1 The relative pronoun selection of lo que

A. Simple relative clause:

Los alumnos comen mucho, lo que/lo cual me encanta.

The students eat a lot, which is pleasing to me.

B. Compound relative clause:

Lo que cocinas es muy sabroso.

What you cook is very tasty.

C. Compound relative clause:

Quiero lo que tienes.

I want what you have.

D. Compound relative clause:

Estudiar es lo que me gusta.

Studying is what I like.

Stage 2 The relative pronoun selection of que

A. Restrictive clause, animate subject/noun modified:

Los beisbolistas que practican mucho tienen los mejores contratos.

The baseball players who practice a lot have the best contracts.

B. Restrictive clause, animate direct object/noun modified:

Describo los pintores que trabajan todos los días.

I describe the painters who work every day.

C. Restrictive clause, inanimate subject/noun modified:

Los libros que están en la mesa son rojos.

The books that are on the table are red.

D. Restrictive clause, inanimate direct object/noun modified:

Leo las revistas que son más populares.

I read the magazines that are most popular.

E. Non-restrictive clause, animate subject/noun modified:

Los chicos, que están en el salón de clase, estudian mucho.

The boys, who are in the classroom, study a lot.

F. Non-restrictive clause, animate direct object/noun modified:

Prefiero los colegas, que son amables.

I prefer the colleagues, who are amiable.

G. Non-restrictive clause, inanimate subject/noun modified:

Las carpetas, que están en la oficina, tienen los documentos confidenciales.

The folders, which are in the office, have the confidential documents.

H. Non-restrictive clause, inanimate direct object/noun modified:

Tengo las mochilas, que se venden a bajo precio.

I have the backpacks, which are being sold at a low price.

Stage 3 The relative pronoun selection of quien(es)

Simple relative pronoun (preposition + quien(es))

A. Restrictive clause, singular animate noun modified:

Ésta es la persona a quien conté la historia.

This is the person to whom I told the story.

El profesor de quien hablé es generoso.

The professor about whom I spoke is generous.

El colega con quien voy a presentar es inteligente.

The colleague with whom I am going to present is intelligent.

B. Restrictive clause, plural animate noun modified:

Los médicos son los especialistas a quienes conozco.

The doctors are the specialists whom I know.

Los empleados de quienes hablé son extrovertidos.

The employees about whom I spoke are extroverts.

Los amigos con quienes trabajo son amables.

The friends with whom I work are amiable.

C. Non-restrictive clause, singular animate noun modified:

El / La administrador/a, quien (el/la que, el/la cual, que) trabaja seis días cada semana, gana mucho dinero.

The administrator, who works six days every week, earns a lot of money.

D. Non-restrictive clause, plural animate noun modified:

Los / Las profesores, quienes (los/las que, los/las cuales, que) enseñan, desarrollan estrategias pedagógicas.

The professors, who teach, develop pedagogical strategies.

Whilst this interlanguage hierarchy is not exhaustive of all possible linguistic structures in which the relative pronouns lo que, que, and quien(es) are used, it is intended to provide a solid foundation for the appropriate selection of these pronouns in different contextual situations. The three stages of the interlanguage hierarchy are aligned with the content of the concept model: i.e.

  • Stage 1 most abstract, lo que,
  • Stage 2, less abstract, que; and
  • Stage 3 least abstract, quien(es).

This alignment demonstrates that, as the abstractness of these relative pronouns decreases, the morphosyntactic complexity of relative pronoun selection increases because of animacy and clause restrictiveness. In order to facilitate the teaching and learning of lo que, que, and quienes, the author will linguistically apply the concept model to the interlanguage hierarchy whilst employing a wide variety of his own examples and those from textbooks and research studies. In addition, strategies and techniques for teaching Spanish relative pronouns to L2 learners will be offered. Within the context of the applied linguistics analysis, it is contended that the following factors substantially impinge on L2 acquisition of lo que, que, and quien(es):

  • negative L1 English transfer,
  • the noun of the independent clause which instantiates the subject, direct object, or indirect object in Spanish; and
  • the verb of the independent clause which represents the subject in Spanish.

4 Analysis

4.1 Examining lo que

Attempting to resolve students’ difficulties with the L2 acquisition of lo que requires instructors to expose them to different structural contexts. Stage 1 section A of the interlanguage hierarchy exhibits a viable starting point of exposure because the independent clause Los alumnos comen mucho is explicitly separated from the dependent clause lo que/lo cual me encanta via the comma punctuation. A common problem that L2 learners have with the acquisition of lo que is the overgeneralization that this relative pronoun is always equivalent to the L1 English relative pronoun what. The section A example exhibits a case in which lo que is initiating a non-restrictive relative clause which modifies the abstract situation expressed by the verb in the independent clause comen. Instructors should make students aware that this is a very common case where lo que in Spanish dynamically carries the function of the English relative pronoun which. Knapp Jones (1948) offers the following example in order to support the optional use of lo cual instead of lo que as the former relative pronoun is literally equivalent to the relative pronoun which:

(10) [É]l habla demasiado, lo cual (or lo que) no me gusta [.]

He talks too much, a thing which (and that) I don’t like. (Knapp Jones 1948: 403)

Using lo cual instead of lo que because of its literal translation into L1 English remains a controversial solution to this case. This is because it encourages students to depend on L1 English in order to try and learn the appropriate relative pronoun selection of Spanish. Lo que is also more common in informal speech and lo cual is widely used in formal speech (Hernández Alonso 1967, Eberenz 1983, García García 1993, Haverkate 2002). This clearly demonstrates that the optional use of lo cual does not match the authentic mainstream use of lo que in L1 Spanish-speaking environments. Students should be aware of this difference between lo que and lo cual. They also should be reminded that lo cual functions in non-restrictive clauses as a simple relative pronoun (modifies an abstract situation and then, introduces new information) whilst lo que can function as a compound relative pronoun (simultaneously modifies an abstract situation and introduces new information). Students can use the concept model (Figure 1) to facilitate their acquisition of lo que when it functions in non-restrictive clauses because they can focus on the abstract situation being expressed by the Spanish verb in the independent clause in (10) habla without worrying about the modification of any specific linguistic element. When dealing with the morphosytactic complexity of (10), the Spanish verb in the independent clause, which represents the subject Él, and negative L1 English transfer clearly affect the L2 acquisition of lo que.

The compound relative clause shown in Stage 1 section B illustrates another common case where L2 learners experience difficulties acquiring lo que. Students become confused with the compound functionality of lo que because they not only directly associate lo que with the English relative pronoun what, but they also correlate what and the Spanish interrogative pronoun qué. This direct correlation between what and qué (i.e. negative L1 transfer) induces students to deviate from the relative pronoun functionality of L2 Spanish. Blanco and Donley (2008) offer the following example without disambiguating the negative transfer of L1 English through a linguistic explication:

(11) Lo que me molesta es el calor.

What bothers me is the heat. (Blanco & Donley 2008: 414)

In (11), teachers should detail the compound relative functionality of lo que to facilitate students’ L2 acquisition. Explaining that the relative clause lo que me molesta functions as the subject of the sentence and that lo que simultaneously modifies the independent clause es el calor and introduces new information me molesta elucidates this functionality. In addition to this explanation, the concept model (Figure 1) further simplifies this use of lo que because it initiates a sentence and does not function as the interrogative pronoun qué in this structural context. Students also tend to gravitate towards employing the interrogative pronoun qué when the compound relative lo que appears between two adjacent verbs as in Stage 1 section C: Quiero lo que tienes (Quiero qué tienes*). This gravitation is foreseeable due to students’ inability to differentiate between L1 English what, and L2 Spanish lo que, que, and qué (Zagona 2002, Escudero 2011). In order to facilitate students’ acquisition of lo que in this structural context, it is useful to have them write a question such as ¿Qué quieres? and match this question to the statement Quiero lo que tienes so that they can explicitly become aware of the interrogative functionality of qué in opposition to the relative pronoun functionality of lo que.

The last example of lo que (Stage 1, Section D.) instantiates a clear case where the functionality of the three verbs in the sentence (especially Estudiar) greatly affect L2 learners’ acquisition of lo que. Because novice-level students are not accustomed to seeing two adjacent verbs Estudiar es before the relative clause lo que me gusta, they may believe that es is not necessary in order make this sentence grammatical: Estudiar lo que me gusta*. In this case, instructors should first clarify that Estudiar is the subject, es is a copular / linking verb, and lo que me gusta is a relative clause that modifies an abstract event regarding studying which is represented by the verb Estudiar.

Examining the intricacies of the morphosyntactic functionality of lo que demonstrates that negative L1 English transfer and the modification of abstract events and / or situations represented by verbs in the independent clause is paramount to L2 learners’ acquisition of this relative pronoun. This examination also demonstrates that the concept model and the interlanguage hierarchy are two important resources that can help facilitate the L2 acquisition process while employing different linguistic explanations and classroom activities.

4.2 Examining que

The problematic relative pronoun case of que continues to hinder L2 learners’ acquisition processes for a wide variety of reasons: clause restrictiveness, animacy, grammatical structures in L1 English and in L2 Spanish, and the process of relative pronoun selection. When taking all of these factors into account, instructors have a tremendous responsibility to explicate the appropriate use of que. They need to crosslinguistically analyze the function of que in Spanish and that, which, and who in English in order to facilitate students’ acquisition of que. As students constantly compare que with the aforementioned English relative pronouns, instructors should provide students with linguistic analyses that show that que is not literally equivalent to one English relative pronoun in every structural context. This is because animacy and clause restrictiveness substantially impact how relative pronouns modify the noun / subject or the noun / direct object of the independent clause (Spaulding 1935, Sullivan 1953, Hernández Alonso 1967, Hernández Alonso 1982, Cortés Rodríguez 1987, DeMello 1993). Stage 2, Sections A and E bolster this impact with examples of restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses that modify animate nouns / subjects. The restrictive relative clause in section A que practican mucho, which specifies that only the baseball players who practice a lot have the best contracts, can use one of two possible English relative pronouns (who or that) because of the clause restrictiveness. In Section E, where the non-restrictive relative clause que están en el salón de clase modifies the subject / noun los chicos, who is exclusively used in English to modify the boys as it is ambiguous whether there may be other boys within the contextual environment who may study a lot. Newbrook (1998) juxtaposes the restrictive and non-restrictive complexities of animate noun / subject modification to demonstrate that higher-order thinking is necessary in order to acquire the meaning of these syntactic structures:

(12) The students who had finished left the hall.

Los alumnos que habían terminado salieron del pasillo.[12] (Newbrook 1998: 54)

(13) The students, who had finished, left the hall.

Los alumnos, que habían terminado, salieron del pasillo.[13] (Newbrook 1998: 54)

Examples (12) and (13) highlight the importance of facilitating students’ acquisition of L2 relative pronoun acquisition. The concept model (Figure 1) enhances this facilitation because it focuses students’ attention on conceptualizing the modification of animate nouns that appear in the independent clause when they are dealing with both restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. For example, in (12) and (13) the concept model only requires students to concentrate on the dynamic relationship between the noun / subject being modified The students / Los alumnos and the respective relative pronouns who / que that initiate this modification. Exposing students to linguistic analyses allows them to resort to the concept model to reinforce why they are using que; the comprehension of L1 English relative pronouns at some point will no longer be necessary for assisting students in understanding the relative pronoun use of que. The above comparison of the functionality of who / que in restrictive and non-restrictive clauses perspicuously shows that L2 learners’ conceptualization of how relative pronoun clauses modify animate noun / subjects impinges on their L2 acquisition of que. In addition to employing the conceptual model, instructors who use sentence-combining and decombining activities can greatly facilitate students’ acquisiton of que. For example, having students create two complete sentences Los alumnos que habían terminado and Los alumnos salieron del pasillo from one complete sentence in (12) allows them to interrelate animate nouns, relative pronouns, and clause restrictiveness.

Students lack substantial initial linguistic input from textbooks regarding this interrelationship when dealing with restrictive and non-restrictive relative pronoun clauses that modify direct objects / nouns in the independent clause. Stage 2, Sections B and F of the interlanguage hierarchy provide an example of these two different clauses, respectively, in order to fill in this linguistic input gap. Students often struggle with relative pronoun selection because of their tendency to align the use of the English relative pronoun who with the Spanish relative pronoun quien(es) (Knapp Jones 1948, Ozete 1981). In the Section-B example, Describo los pintores quienes trabajan todos los días* is ungrammatical, because the restrictive clause in Spanish does not permit the use of quien(es) to modify an animate noun that immediately precedes it (Alonso Megido 1991, Gili Gaya 2002). The non-restrictive clause in F Prefiero los colegas, que son amables permits the employment of quien(es), although this is a very infrequent relative pronoun use as que is more appropriate for modifying the direct object / animate noun los colegas. In order to facilitate students’ acquisition of que in these structural contexts, teachers should have students separate independent clauses from dependent clauses and identify subjects and direct objects of the former clauses so that they can explicitly focus on modifying direct objects / animate nouns exclusively with que. The examination of these restrictive and non-restrictive clauses demonstrates that negative L1 English transfer and students’ ability to modify the direct object / animate noun of the independent clause greatly impinges on their acquisition of que.

Students’ ability to modify inanimate subjects with que is frequently hindered by the lack of linguistic explanations and input they receive concerning clause restrictiveness, animacy, and relative pronoun selection. Powers (1984) examines the frequency with which que or various forms of el cual are employed in restrictive and non-restrictive clauses without detailed linguistic analyses:

(14) Estas obras, __________ Ud. consultó repetidas veces, están en la biblioteca.

These works, which you consulted repeated times, are in the library.[14] (Powers 1984: 86)

(15) Estos libros __________ Ud. leyó en la librería están a la venta.[15]

These books that you read at the bookstore are on sale.[16] (Powers 1984: 86)

Powers (1984) asserts that que is the only possible relative pronoun that can be used in the restrictive clause in (15). He also concurs with Gili y Gaya (2002) that que is prescriptively the most appropriate relative pronoun in the non-restrictive clause in (14). This agreement partially clashes with Neal-Silva and Nelson’s (1967) findings which show that que and different forms of el cual are interchangeable in this context. This partial clash makes students’ L2 acquisition even more difficult as they have various options from which to choose in non-restrictive relative clauses. Therefore in (14), las cuales or las que may optionally be used as relative pronouns that modify obras. When taking a closer look at the examples in Stage 2, Sections C and G and (14) and (15), a crosslinguistic analysis demonstrates more acquisition intricacies for L2 learners. For example, students may attempt to use which in the restrictive clauses in (15) and section C and then translate which literally to Spanish and use lo que or lo cual. This attempt is clearly an incorrect standard usage of the relative pronoun which in English (Michiels 1975, Ihalainen 1981, Newby 1987, Newbrook 1998, Huddleston & Pullum 2002, Expósito González 2006, Cowan 2008, Kjellmer 2008). This incorrect usage triggers an additional incorrect usage of the neuter relative pronouns lo que and lo cual in L2 Spanish. Lo que and lo cual modify abstract situations or events and que modifies a specific linguistic element: libros or books in (15). Instructors must crosslinguistically emphasize that the English relative pronoun which is fundamentally used in non-restrictive clauses (i.e. example 14) and that is usually employed in restrictive clauses (i.e. example 15) while explicating that que is used in both restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. Highlighting these differences of relative pronoun use reinforces how negative English transfer hampers students’ L2 acquisition.

The modification of inanimate nouns / direct objects in the independent clause often confounds students’ relative pronoun selection processes in Spanish because they become accustomed to associating que with animate and inanimate nouns (Ozete 1981). Therefore, when working with the Stage 2, Sections D and H examples, L2 learners may wonder why que does not modify the person (i.e. the animate entity) that is conducting the action of the independent clause. This is because Spanish verbs represent animate entities which are explicitly and redundantly expressed by personal pronouns: yo, , él / ella / usted, nosotros, ellos / ellas / ustedes, and vosotros. For example, adding the personal pronoun yo explicitly and redundantly expresses the animate entities represented by the verbs Leo (Section D example) and Tengo (Section H example). An effective way to center students’ attention on the appropriate linguistic element (i.e. inanimate nouns / direct objects) that should be modified in these examples is to ask them questions to probe their knowledge about how que introduces new information about the independent clause:

(16) ¿Hay algo más popular?

Is something most popular?

(17) ¿Son más populares las revistas?

Are the magazines most popular?

(18) ¿Se vende algo a bajo precio?

Is something being sold at a low price?

(19) ¿Se venden las mochilas a bajo precio?

Are the backpacks being sold at a low price?

These probing questions highlight that que modifies the inanimate nouns / directs objects of the independent clauses Leo las revistas and Tengo las mochilas without modifying the animacy of the animate subjects represented by the verbs in these clauses. These questions also allow students to avoid depending on comparing L1 English relative pronouns (i.e. which and that) to the L2 Spanish relative pronoun que so as to try and modify inanimate antecedents. This probing-question strategy is very effective for both restrictive and non-restrictive relative pronoun clauses. Powers (1984) analyzes a non-restrictive clause where que is prescriptively used:

(20) Vas a poner ese disco, __________ es muy popular.

You are going play the record, which is very popular. (Powers 1984: 86)

Instructors can illuminate the appropriate relative pronoun selection (i.e. que) and modification of the inanimate noun / direct object of the independent clause disco by asking students the following two questions:

(21) ¿Eres popular?

Are you popular?

(22) ¿El disco es popular?

Is the record popular?

After students confirm that the correct answers to (21) and (22) are no and yes, respectively, instructors should remind them about the optional uses of el que and el cual in non-restrictive clauses in order to specify the modification of the inanimate antecedent in gender and number. Students should also be aware that different forms of el que are more frequently used in informal contexts whilst different forms of el cual are usually employed in formal contexts (Ozete 1981, Powers 1984, Zagona 2002). This explicit awareness ensures that students appropriately integrate the morphosyntactic and pragmatic manifestation of these relative pronouns. This analysis of the interrelationship between clause restrictiveness, animacy, and modification shows that negative L1 English transfer and L2 learners’ decision-making processes that encompass the modification of inanimate nouns / direct objects greatly influence their acquisition of que.

4.3 Examining quien(es)

The constant frustration that L2 learners face when deciding when to use the Spanish relative pronoun quien(es) arises from various problematic issues which subsume the following:

  • the generalization that quien(es) can be used in any structural context where que is used in reference to people,
  • not paying attention to the plurality or singularity of the linguistic entity being modified, and
  • attempting to use L1 English structures in order to learn L2 Spanish structures which have prepositions that immediately antecede quien(es).

Whilst both textbooks[17] and research studies[18] illuminate the fact that quien(es) exclusively refers to people, there is an evident lack of linguistic analyses that attempt to facilitate L2 learners’ acquisition of quien(es) in different structural contexts. Stage 3 of the interlanguage hierarchy (sections A-E) highlights examples that will be linguistically analyzed here in order to help facilitate L2 learners’ acquisition of quien(es). Instructors should orient students to the understanding of the relative pronoun selection of quien(es) by emphasizing that it only modifies animate nouns that are people. The examples in Sections A and B of the interlanguage hierarchy demonstrate this modification in restrictive clauses that have singular and plural animate nouns accompanied by the adjacent prepositions a, de, and con:

(23) Ésta es la persona a quien conté la historia.[19]

This is the person (to) whom I told the story.

(24) El profesor de quien hablé es generoso.

The professor about whom I spoke is generous.

(25) El colega con quien voy a presentar es inteligente.

The colleague with whom I am going to present is intelligent.

(26) Los médicos son los especialistas a quienes conozco.

The doctors are the specialists whom I know.

(27) Los empleados de quienes hablé son extrovertidos.

The employees about whom I spoke are extroverts.

(28) Los amigos con quienes trabajo son amables.

The friends with whom I work are amiable.

Two very common problems that students have in acquiring these cases of quien(es) is to use the relative pronoun que in place of quien(es) and to employ the prepositions a, de, and con at the end of relative clauses. For example, in (23), students create an ungrammatical Spanish sentence *Ésta es la persona que conté la historia a (This is the person that I told the story to) because of the negative L1 English transfer which triggers their use of the relative pronoun that / que and then, the preposition to / a in clause-final position. Instructors should crosslinguistically analyze this negative L1 transfer so as to help facilitate students’ acquisition. This is because the preposition to should antecede the relative pronoun whom (Huddleston & Pullum 2002, Cowan 2008) which refers to person as an object. Likewise, in Spanish, the preposition a antecedes the relative pronoun quien as in (23). Having students rearrange the structure of the relative clause in (23) and identify the modified animate noun I told the story to the person explicitly illustrates that whom refers to / modifies the person as an indirect object. This rearrangement and identification technique is just as effective in Spanish as it is in English. For example, in (23), the Spanish preposition, unlike the English preposition, always appears immediately before quien when it functions in this type of restrictive relative clause. Therefore, when students rearrange the sentence to indicate persona as an indirect object Le conté la historia a la persona, they more easily understand how quien and whom represent indirect objects. Students can also rearrange sentences with direct objects instantiated by quien(es) and whom. In (26), the rearrangement of the Spanish sentences Conozco a los especialistas and English I know the specialists clearly shows that especialistas and specialists are direct objects represented by quien(es) and whom in the respective relative clauses.

Another concern that students have when struggling through these restrictive clause / animate noun cases of preposition + quien(es) is whether it is possible to use other Spanish relative pronoun forms because this frequently happens with que as demonstrated in (14) and (20). In all of the aforementioned examples (23-28), other Spanish relative pronouns can be used such as el que / el cual and los que / los cuales in (24 and 25) and (27 and 28) respectively:

(29) El profesor del que / del cual hablé es generoso.

The professor about whom I spoke is generous.

(30) El colega con el que / con el cual voy a presentar es inteligente.

The colleague with whom I am going to present is intelligent.

(31) Los empleados de los que / de los cuales hablé son extrovertidos.

The employees about whom I spoke are extroverts.

(32) Los amigos con los que / con los cuales trabajo son amables.

The friends with whom I work are amiable.

However, instructors should inform students of three key contextual issues:

  • different forms of el que are frequently used in informal contexts and those of el cual are common in formal contexts (Ozete 1981, Powers 1984),
  • forms of el que and el cual can represent animate nouns and inanimate nouns, and
  • forms of el que and el cual are frequently employed to clarify the antecedent noun that is being modified.

Whilst quien(es) is predominantly used in these morphosyntactic environments, students should be exposed to other relative pronoun options so that they do not become confused with the modification of animate nouns that are people. The concept model (Figure 1) helps students concentrate on conceptualizing the modification of animate nouns that are people (i.e. the use of quien(es)) so that they are not distracted by el que and el cual forms that modify inanimate nouns. This examination of preposition + quien(es) structures demonstrates that negative L1 English transfer and the modification of animate nouns that are people substantially influence L2 learners’ acquisition of quien(es).

In addition to the restrictive clauses analyzed above, students’ ability to use quien(es) appropriately in non-restrictive clauses is primordial. Stage 3, Sections C and D exemplify the optional use of quien(es) when it modifies plural and singular animate nouns in the independent clause:

(33) El / La administrador(a), quien (el / la que, e l /la cual, que) trabaja seis días cada semana, gana

mucho dinero.

The administrator, who works six days each week, earns a lot of money.

(34) Los / Las profesor(es)/(as), quienes (los / las que / los / las cuales, que) enseñan, desarrollan

estrategias pedagógicas.

The professors, who teach, develop pedagogical strategies.

Although que is the most frequently used relative pronoun in these non-restrictive environments (Powers 1984, Álvarez Martínez 1986, Cortés Rodríguez 1987), quien(es) is sometimes used to modify animate nouns that are people. There is widespread disagreement in textbooks with regard to grammar explanations that describe the frequency with which quienes is used in opposition to que. For example, Blanco & Donley (2008) contend that the use of quienes in these non-restrictive clauses is occasional where as Zayas-Bazán, Bacon & Nibert (2007) endorse the frequent use of quien(es) whenever animate nouns that are people are modified:

(35) José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, quien fue elegido presidente de España en 2004, es líder del Partido Socialista Obrero Español [PSOE]. (Zayas-Bazán, Bacon & Nibert 2007: 512)

(36) José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was elected President of Spain in 2004, is the leader of the Spanish Socialist Worker Party (PSOE). (Zayas-Bazán, Bacon & Nibert 2007: 512)

The majority of prior research studies (Eberenz 1983, DeMello 1993, Gili Gaya 2002) asserts that que is more frequently used in informal spoken and written language whilst quien(es) tends to appear in formal written language. Instructors should expose students to these different contextual uses because the negative L1 English transfer of the relative pronoun who often influences students to employ quien(es) as a more prominent relative pronoun than que. Parsing these cases of the manifestation of quien(es) in non-restrictive clauses draws attention to the strong impact that negative L1 English transfer and the modification of animate nouns have on L2 learners’ acquisition of quien(es).

5 Conclusion

This paper integrates the fields of language acquisition, applied linguistics, and morphosyntax by presenting a conceptual model and an interlanguage hierarchy, and by conducting a linguistic analysis in order to facilitate the teaching and learning of the Spanish relative pronouns lo que, que, and quien(es). Problematic issues concerning the L2 acquisition of these pronouns have been discussed so as to demonstrate and argue that negative L1 English transfer (in cases of lo que, que and quien(es)), the noun of the independent clause (in cases of quien(es) and que), and the verb of the independent clause (in cases of lo que) substantially impinge on L2 learners’ acquisition processes. The author supports this demonstration and argument through the conceptualization of the relative pronoun selection process in Spanish which includes crosslinguistic analyses that focus on animacy, clause restrictiveness, and the modification of abstract situations or specific linguistic elements in independent clauses. Readers are also provided with examples of useful classroom activities such as sentence combining and probing questions which help facilitate the acquisition of Spanish relative pronouns. Instructors should avoid any inclination to assign categorical rules to the use of lo que, que, and quien(es) as this paper has demonstrated that the dynamic functionality of different syntactic structures does not align with such rules. It is hoped that this paper will encourage future empirical and / or theoretical research that delves into the L2 acquisition of Spanish relative pronouns because students’ acquisition of these pronouns is necessary for their obtainment of integral knowledge that amalgamates independent clauses and relative pronoun clauses.

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Author:

Zahir Mumin

Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Humanities

University at Albany

State University of New York

1400 Washington Avenue

Albany, NY, USA 12222

E-mail: zmumin@albany.edu


[1] The sentences in the Spanish language examples quoted in this article are not italicized in the respective original texts.

[2] This Spanish language translation is provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the English/Spanish comparison explanation of the relative pronouns that and que respectively.

[3] This means bad as ‘in bad condition’.

[4] This English language translation is provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the Spanish/English language comparison

[5] This means bad as in ‘sick’ or ‘ill’.

[6] This English language translation is provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the Spanish / English language comparison.

[7] This English language translation is provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the Spanish / English language comparison.

[8] This English language translation is provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the Spanish / English language comparison.

[9] This English language translation is provided by the author of this paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the Spanish/English language comparison.

[10] This English language translation is provided by the author of this paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the Spanish/English language comparison.

[11] This is clearly an ungrammatical English sentence as whom should be used to denote man as an animate object.

[12] This Spanish language translation is provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the Spanish/English language comparison.

[13] This Spanish language translation is provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the Spanish/English language comparison.

[14] This English language translation is provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the Spanish/English language comparison

[15] This example is provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the restrictive/non-restrictive analysis.

[16] This example is provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the restrictive/non-restrictive analysis.

[17] Cf. Gahala 1999, Gahala 2006, Castells, Guzmán, LaPuerta & Gasparro 2010, Lucas Murillo 2010, Jarvis, Lebredo & Mena-Ayllón 2011, McMinn & Alonso García 2011, de la Fuente, Martín Paris & Sans 2012, Dorwick et al. 2012, Gill, Wegmann & Menéndez-Faith 2012, Potowski, and Sobral & Dawson 2012.

[18] Cf. Knapp Jones 1948, Ozete 1981, Veciana 1981, Powers 1984, Alonso Megido 1991, and Escudero 2011.

[19] Examples 23-28 have been provided by the author of this research paper in order to facilitate the understanding of the Spanish/English language comparison. The Spanish sentences have been italicized by the author of this research paper.