Adjective placement in three modes of Spanish: the role of syllabic weight in novels, presidential speeches, and spontaneous speech

Mark Hoff


Syllabic weight has been posited as a potential explanation for the variable positioning of certain adjectives, relative to the nouns they modify, in Spanish. While some scholars question its utility, File-Muriel (2006) finds strong supporting evidence for a syllabic weight principle. The present study examines the placement of 18 adjectives in three modes- novels, presidential speeches, and spontaneous speech- to determine to what extent these three modes adhere to a heaviness shift rule. Furthermore, cognitive concerns related to production and processing are called upon to test how presidential speeches, a mode that is pre-planned yet delivered orally, differ from novels and spontaneous speech in terms of the placement and syllabic weight of adjectives. This study only partially supports the idea of a syllabic weight principle, in that spontaneous speech, but not novels and presidential speeches, behaves as such a rule would predict. Additional contextual factors appear to be involved. Therefore, as proposed by Prado (1980), it is perhaps most accurate to speak of a “syllabic weight tendency”. The consequences of these findings for the idea of a phonology-syntax interface are discussed briefly.


Spanish; phonology;phonology-syntax interface; syllable weight; adjective placement

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