We investigate asymmetries in the behavior of NP subjects and objects in Sipakapense (Maya) across three generations of Sipakapense-Spanish bilingual speakers. Often, the two languages are typologically classified into separate groups, with SVO word order assumed as the traditional sequence in Spanish, and VSO in Sipakapense. We illustrate that this typological partition is artificial: in Spanish, as in Mayan, VSO can serve as the basic, declarative word order, where the subject maintains its internal-VP position with a neutral interpretation. Both Spanish and Sipakapense obtain the SVO configuration via subject topicalization. Thus, the key factor in the shift from VSO to SVO observed occurs in the second generation of Sipakapense speakers is not directly related to a "dominant" influence of Spanish, but instead is based on independent cognitive strategies as the bilinguals "economize their cognitive burden" by applying the same operations to the VSO structures existing in both languages. We further demonstrate that the third generation of bilinguals exhibits a preference for SOV order in Sipakapense. We provide a principled explanation for this development, based on the confluence of the bilingual’s cognitive strategies for organizing his/her languages and the sociolinguistic factors that impact this particular community.

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Paper Teresa Satterfield, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, and Rusty Barrett, Visiting Professor, University of Michigan, presented at the 2004 International Symposium on Bilingualism in Latin America (Argentia).