"I'm gonna get me a dog" and the 'ethical dative'

Ricardo Maldonado msoto at servidor.unam.mx
Wed Oct 6 21:04:25 UTC 2004

Dear Clancy:

The term Ethical Dative has certainly been overused with not enough precision
in Hispanic Linguistics. Since in a more classical tradition the term 
"ethical dative" referred
to a very different construction. The "ethical dative" was in fact a 
transitive completive of the type:

Me leí el libro
Middle read the book
'I read the whole book'

I thus avoided the term all together.

As for the examples you gave none of them qualify as  a so called "ethical 
One crucial feature of that dative is their strong dependence on the speaker.
Thus ethical datives can be used in 1st person, in some cases second but 
certainly never in 3rd person.
examples can easily be used in 3rd person:

Se      le      murió el gato
Middle DAT.3rd died the cat
The cat died on him

Esta    nena            no      les             come nada a sus padres y ya 
los tiene preocupados
this    little.girl             NEG     3PL-DAT eats nothing to her parents 
and yet them have worried
'This little girl is not wanting to eat anything  for her parents y she has 
them worried now.'

These contrast with strange datives such as:

Me le arruinaron la vida a mi hija
DAT DAT ruined the life to my daughter
'They ruined my daughter's on me'

Which cannot be used in third person.

These facts show that there are in fact two very different dative 
constructions besides core datives and applicatives.
 From a cognitive grammar perspective I showed that cannot take 3rd 
person  are always in the setting (thus setting datives)
while those that can take 1st, second and 3rd among other arguments 
correspond to "sympathetic datives", i.e. experiencers that are affected as 
they linked to the affectedness imposed on other participant in the event.

For further details on these two separate constructions I apologize for 
referring you to a paper of mine:

Ricardo Maldonado 2002. "Objective and subjective datives" Cognitive 
Linguistics. 13-1. 1-65.

Anyway, I hope this helps.

All the best.

Ricardo Maldonado

At 09:21 p.m. 27/09/2004, clements wrote:
>The term 'ethical dative' is often used to name a similar phenomenon in
>Spanish, of the type
>Se      ME              murio'  el      gato.
>EMPH   1sg-dative       died    the     cat
>'My cat died on me.'
>Esta    nena            no      me              come.
>this    little.girl     NEG     1sg-dative      eats
>'This little girl is not wanting to eat (for me).'
>In Spanish, it seems more frequently in 1st and 2nd person than in
>3rd. I don't know if anyone has studied the distribution of this in
>English. It'd be interesting to know whether the distribution is sensitive
>to person and number distinctions.
>Clancy Clements
>On Mon, 27 Sep 2004, Stahlke, Herbert F.W. wrote:
> > I'm interested that you use the term "ethical dative" for this.  It's a 
> term I also used when I suggested this analysis on the other list that 
> Johanna and I discussed this on.  I learned the term from Greek and Latin 
> studies, but it doesn't show up in English studies much.  There is one 
> footnote on it in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.
> >
> > Herb Stahlke
> >
> > ============
> >
> > I'm not a native speaker of English, so maybe I should be reluctant, but I
> > do know that I own an album by a contemporary American songwriter on which
> > the following line can be heard:
> >
> > "I went outside and I smoked myself a J "
> >
> > What is more, I also have an album by some other American songwriter  that
> > has a song with the line:
> >
> > "I had me a girl in Minnesota/ She was only fillin'  her  quota"
> >
> > Both albums sold over three million copies, and I am not aware that any
> > buyer has ever complained about bad English. So one thing I think 
> should be
> > clear: these what i would call "ethical  datives" are a real phenomenon of
> > at least American English.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
>         *************************************************
>         J. Clancy Clements
>         Director of Undergraduate Studies, HISP
>         Department of Spanish and Portuguese, BH844, IU-B
>         1020 East Kirkwood Avenue
>         Bloomington, IN 47401  USA
>         Tel 812-855-8612
>         Fax 812-855-4526
>         Email clements at indiana.edu
>         Webpage http://www.indiana.edu/~spanport/clements.html
>         *************************************************

Ricardo Maldonado
Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, UNAM
Posgrado en Lingüística, UAQ 

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