Jon Aske aske at EARTHLINK.NET
Mon Feb 16 04:02:39 UTC 1998

Clancy & Co.,

I was familiar with the very interesting data you give us (the Spanish that
I am most familiar with is very similar to Baroja's Spanish), but I am
really not convinced that your conclusion about the changes in the object
system is warranted.  It seems to me that other, more "mundane", reasons may
very well be at play here, though I admit I don't have a fully coherent
theory about it, just some half-baked ideas.

My main reason for being skeptical I guess has to do with the fact that
non-human direct objects are for the most part excluded from being treated
(coded the same way) as indirect objects (both for the purpose of adding the
A or of having the "dative" LE clitic as opposed to the LO/LA "accusative"
clitic).  If the syncretism was due to grammatical relation "congruence" (to
give it a name), I would expect it to apply to all direct objects, not just
to those with human referents.

What I see, rather, is a syncretism between datives and accusatives that
share semantic properties of prototypical datives (humanness, affectedness,
etc.).  We could call that the "enabling motivation" for the syncretism.
Then the "communicative motivation" for the syncretism could be the fact
that it enables the coding of an accusative nominal differently from a
nominative one, something which can come in very handy, especially when the
two have similar "semantic profiles" in a language with rather flexible word
order (i.e. one driven by pragmatic, not grammatical, relations).

The fact that non-human accusatives are excluded from this syncretism to me
suggests that these changes are not really changes in an abstract system of
grammatical relations.  (I must confess that I tend to prefer concrete,
system-external arguments to abstract, system-internal ones; the latter are
what was traditionally known as functional explanations in linguistics, the
former is what modern functionalists tend to favor nowadays).

This still leaves the mystery of why LE wasn't extended as readily to
masculine accusatives as to feminine ones, even while the "personal A"
extended equally to accusatives of both genders.  I think the reason for
this may have to do with a blockage to the spread of LE to feminines caused
by a 'faint' association between LE and masculine gender.  I know this
sounds like a lame reason, especially given that LE is not gender specific
when used as a dative pronoun, and that the block is obviously not
insurmountable, but I really think that there may be something to this
conjecture. I would love to hear what others think about this.  I would also
like to have the diachronic facts about the development of LE, LO, LA, which
I don't have at my fingertips right now, and which I think may provide some

Cheers, Jon

Jon Aske
Jon.Aske at / aske at
Department of Foreign Languages
Salem State College
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
No matter what side of an argument you're on, you always have some people on
your side that you wish were on the other side. --Jascha Heifetz

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