Ergativity and objects in Spanish

Ricardo Maldonado msoto at SERVIDOR.UNAM.MX
Tue Feb 17 16:02:08 UTC 1998

A few more clarifications.
When I suggested the existence of competition strategies to disambiguate
double "a" constructions I did so in reference to Clancy´s crucial argument
about deleting "a" in the context of DO/ IO coexistence. The crucial point
was that "demoting" the IO to an oblique was the best way to avoid "a"
Now, I am glad Clancy found the same type of reaction from native speakers
about the naturalness of
"Juan le presenta Luisa a Marta". Since Diego said that "> (1) sounds
perfectly unmarked and natural to my Costa Rican native competence" I
thought there would be an interesting dialect contrast between Mexico and
Spain vs Costa Rica. However I checked with Costa Rican friends at the
University of Casta Rica and the example was rejected or seen as rather
strange by everyone. Thus I  Agree with Clancy in that we cannot trust overt
NP´s and the interesting issue the is clitic LE.

2) I am quite happy that my clarification on "Visitar a Paris" generated a
discussion of something I did not say. I did not say that the ONLY function
of "a" was marking human objects, I just pointed out that in that example
"Paris" would be read as affected by the process. I agree with Diego that
once the definiteness of the object idea hit the ground everybody forgot
about the basic human value of personal "a". Outdated as the unique
explanation, I believe that the human object interpretation accounts for an
important set of data. Indeed I believe that there is an important gradation
going from designating a human definite object to signaling an definite
non-human object. The cline is determined, I believe, by the semantics of
the verb. Being that "visitar" has a strong requirement for human objects
the use of "a" will strengthen that interpretation.

Now, about Diego´s example
>        (1) La amenaza de confiscarles los indios...
>Unless one would take the rather racist and odd view that 'indios' does
>not refer to referents which are human, topical, but which in the case of
>(1) compete for topicality with the referents of 'le' [los encomenderos],
>there is no way to account for the absence of 'a' in (1).

I would like to know when was this written beacuse the racist interpretation
may be in fact quite insightful. Recent analysis by Marcela Flores on LE/Lo
contrast (there is a paper submitted to Romance Philology) where she proves
that in Colonial Spanish there are important contrasts in which LO is in
fact used to refer to people of lower status whereas LE is used for those in
upper scales of Colonial society. Indians were referred by Spaniards, as we
can all expect, with LO not with LE. Chances are Diego´s example could have
the same or similar (racist) motivation. Let us not forget, as Jon pointed
out, that LE and LA were already used at the time (and in some current
dialects it still is) to mark social differences between males and females.
The use of the LE/LO contrast to mark status differences is still exploited
in all dialects of Spanish as we all know. The more formal the situation is
the more LE tends to be used. So in:
1) Le esperamos
2) Lo esperamos

1) is prefered for formal situations (Radio transmission, wedding
invitations and such). This is of course no news to anybody. Seminal work by
Erica Garcia since 1975 has pointed out this basic contrast. Since the text
cited by Diego is a hisotrical source maybe he can help us with more
information about it. To prevent misunderstandings, I don´t believe it
explains the whole grammaticalization process discussed by Jon and Diego.  I
only think this explanation adds an angle not previously considered in this
Best regards to all of you.

Ricardo Maldonado
Instituto de Investigaciones Filologicas, UNAM
2a de Cedros 676, Jurica
Mexico, Queretaro 76100
tel (52) (42) 18 02 64
fax (52) (42) 18 68 78
msoto at

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