Spanish objects (WAS: Ergativity)

Jon Aske aske at EARTHLINK.NET
Thu Feb 12 18:16:36 UTC 1998

I'm glad that Ricardo confirms my initial reaction to that very interesting
Spanish example of Clancy's in which the "personal a" is not present with a
human object in Spanish when there is a dative around (cf. Juan presento
Luisa a Marta).  (My initial reaction being that the issue is more complex
that that single example might suggest and that different strategies may be
followed by speakers in a situation which is confusing and rare, avoidance
being definitely one.)

I would just like to report another reaction to that sentence which was sent
to me directly by Victoria Vázquez Rozas of the Facultade de Filoloxía of
the University of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia(fevvazq at  I
quote it in full (with her permission), cause I think the (real, live) data
is very interesting.  I love in particular the ambiguous example at the end.

>>>>>> BEGINNING OF QUOTE (my translation, JA)

... Examples such as *Juan presentó Luisa a Marta* also present some
difficulties.  On the one hand, as a speaker, this example seems very
strange to me (I don't think I would ever say anything like that).  On the
other hand, I have been able to corroborate their rarity in a modern Spanish
corpus.  The research group I am part of has created a syntactic database
with more than 160,000 clauses from a modern Spanish corpus.

There are 362 tokens of the verb "presentar" [introduce], of which 22
correspond to the syntactic schema Subject(animate)-Indirect
object(animate)-Direct object (animate).  In a great many of them, both the
direct and indirect objects are coded only as clitic pronouns (e.g. "Un
chico no se acercaba a una muchacha en el paseo ni la sacaba a bailar sin
que se (OI) la (OD) hubieran presentado previamente" [a boy would not
approach a girl or take her out to dance without anybody having introduced
her to him first]).

In other examples, only one of the objects is a clitic ("Te presento a la
madre de mi novio"; "Recuerda que un buen día un amigo le presentó a su
prima"); in these cases, the clitic is the indirect object and the full
subject with a "personal a" is a direct object.

Only one of the examples is ambiguous in its interpretation:

"Hoy precisamente doy una comida y quiero presentarte a mis amigos, les vas
a encantar"
[Just today I'm having some people for dinner and I want to [introduce you
to my friends / introduce my friends to you], they're going to love you.]

If instead of "les vas a encantar" [they're going to love you], the text
said "te van a encantar" [you're going to love them], the most plausible
interpretation would be similar to that in the rest of the examples; however
because it says "les vas a encantar" it seems easier to interpret "te" as
direct object and "a mis amigos" as indirect object.  ...

>>>>>>>>>> END OF QUOTE

Out of context the clause "quiero presentarte a mis amigos" is completely
ambiguous between I want to introduce you to my friends and I want to
introduce my friends to you.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it too.

Best, Jon
Jon Aske
or mailto://
Department of Foreign Languages
Salem State College
Salem, Massachusetts 01970

Bat eman eta bi hartu, gure etxean ez berriz sartu ** "Give one and take
two, don't come back into our house.". --Basque Proverb

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