Time and Spanish

Dr. Ricardo Maldonado msoto at SERVIDOR.UNAM.MX
Fri Mar 24 20:27:20 UTC 2000

A few comments about Carmen Bretones' insight of whether
the observer can move towards a future time.

 09:39 AM 18/03/00 -0800, ha escrito:
>Dear Vyv,

>>Is the following sentence a grammatical sentence in Spanish?

1)nos estamos acercando a la Navidad
>Yes, it is grammatical.
>You could say, for example, "nos estamos acercando a tu casa(spatial
>location)" o "nos estamos acercando a un momento culminante(temporal
>>Essentially I'm trying to find out if it is possible in Spanish to
>>conceptualise the observer as moving towards a future time.
2>*Avanzamos hacia la Navidad
3>*Nos aproximamos a la Navidad
4>*Nos movemos hacia la Navidad
5>*Vamos hacia la Navidad
6>*Nos acercamos a la Navidad

>These examples do not sound right, but I am afraid that many people would
>consider it as due to stylistics rather than to grammar.
>In general terms, the correct expression for the general temporal location
>"Christmas time" would be "se acerca la Navidad" meaning that the period
>of the year called Christmas is coming. In this case, it is implied that
>Christmas "se acerca" (comes closer) to the present time, the time in which
>"we" are now.

I believe that given the appropriate context all those examples can be just
That's the kind of thing we here in political discourse all the time.
Change the word Navidad 'Christmas' to a real goal in time like "un futuro
mejor = a better future". Examples 2-6 become perfect.

>In Spanish you would never say "se NOS está acercando la navidad"
>(Christmas is getting closer TO US).

Here I disagree with Carmen. Spanish is quite flexible to create this type
of metaphor, given the right context.
Consider the case where I need to buy Christmas  presents for all the
family and I have been unable to get enough money to do so, then it is
perfectly fine to say "se me acerca peligrosamente/amenazantemente la
navidad" "Christmas is getting closer to me dangerously/ dearlingly" A
phrase like "Se nos avecinan tiempos difíciles = Hard times are
approaching/coming to us" is not only possible but quite common. Thus
imposing agency or activity on time is perfectly possible.

Notice that in most cases the sentence is construed with the middle clitic
which in motion verbs depicts an incohative construal (Further analysis of
what I have called "Dynamic SE" can be seen either in my book "A media voz"
(1999) or in a previous paper Maldonado 1992 "Dynamic construals in
Spanish" sorry for the reference)

A secnd point. Carmen says:
>In "se acerca la navidad" We (observers) (note that I do not say "I", but
>"we") are considered as a stationary object towards which Christmas
>(the actor in this case) is moving. Its agency or self-movement is expressed
>through the reflexive verb (or, more specifically, thanks to the reflexive
>pronoun "se"=itself). The use of the reflexive could imply the idea of time
>as actor or performer, or the metaphor TIME IS ACTION.
>Look at thefollowing examples: ( right, *not so right, ***wrong)

7>La Navidad se acerca
8>*Nos acercamos a la Navidad
9>***La Navidad se nos acerca
10>La Navidad se aproxima
11>*Nos aproximamos a la Navidad
12>***Se nos aproxima la Navidad
13>La vejez se acerca
14>Nos acercamos a la vejez
15>Se nos acerca la vejez

>As you see, the last example is right in its three uses.
>In "NOS" we include action, - the action of agent subjects as builders of
>that coming time. NOS could also imply more personalised and more
>coloquial meaning. That would imply that maybe we personify Christmas in
>Spanish, and so we avoid our agency (nos).

I am sorry to disagree here again.
First in NOS there is no agency at all. It is a dative clitic that depicts
an active participant in the target domain. It is thus the goal and it is
an experiencer subject to be affected as all datives are.
Now, if "navidad" is seen as something threatening just like "vejez=old
age" is in 13-15 then 7-12 are perfect.

There are nice and interesting differences between Spain and Latin America
on this respect. As I have shown in another paper (Maldonado "Datividad
distancia conceptual" 1998 sorry again for the reference!) in Mexican
Spanish the conceptualizer can easily become part of the scene and be
affected by it. Thus, given the right context 7-12 are fine.

An anecdote on this issue is pertinent. When I presented the dative paper
in Spain most Penisular speakers in the audience rejected examples like 9
and 12, yet in informal conversation after the conference I heard a few of
those examples from the same people.
Carmen points out that "NOS could also imply more personalised and more
coloquial meaning" I think that is totally correct. In informal contexts
that type of construction is quite common even in dialects that reject them
in formal situations. From the last messages we have received, it is clear
that in Andalucía and other parts of Spain as well as in Chile. Examples in
7-12 are fine given the appropriate context.

I hope this helps

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