Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Hispanic Literatures & Linguistics

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Luiz Amaral

Second Advisor

Magda Oiry

Subject Categories

Spanish Linguistics


The wh- island is a syntactic phenomenon that constitutes a constraint on wh- movement with implications for interpretation (the speaker must be aware of the distinction between arguments and adjuncts, and of the effects of the [-QU] feature on the middle wh- word against extraction) and for production (the speaker needs to know the limited, short distance scope of the fronted wh- word in adjunct questions). In Spanish, each wh- word carries a referential value that affects its classification as an adjunct or an argument, hence affecting the extractability of each wh- word from a complex question containing a wh- island. The aim of this dissertation is to analyze how both the interpretation and production of questions that contain a wh- island are played out in the interlanguage of Second Language speakers of Spanish at the intermediate and near-native level. Through the inclusion of a control group of native speakers, it also looks into how current syntactic descriptions of the adult grammar of Spanish can accommodate experimental data. The interpretation experiment consisted of nine situations followed by a question containing a wh- island that subjects had to respond to. The results obtained suggest that non-native speakers of Spanish, although never fully converging, come closer to nativelike results as their proficiency advances. As for native speakers, the results show a need for the reinterpretation of the wh- island and of the adjunct/argument asymmetry based on the properties of each wh- word individually as well as on verb subcategorization effects. The production experiment consisted of a game-based elicited imitation task. In line with the results found for interpretation, there is a clear proficiency-related improvement among the non-native groups. What the production task shows, above all, is a much larger use of creativity in the question-forming strategies used by near-native and native speakers, whereas the intermediate group shows a significantly higher use of avoidance strategies that allow them to form the shortest, most semantically and syntactically simple questions possible. The combination of both experiments across all three language groups gives a detailed account of wh- islands and how typically disregarded lexical factors affect them. It also provides an explanation for group differences that is based on task- and cognitive demand-related distinctions rather than solely on potentially misleading accuracy scores.