Saturday, May 07, 2005

Specificity, clitic-climbing and articles

There is a curious effect with clitic doubling, at least in my dialect (North Peruvian).

Traditionally (Suñer 1988), clitic doubling is associated with a high degree of specificity.

With pronouns is mandatory (in all dialects):

(1) *(Te) vio a ti

With proper nouns, at least for me, depends on the familiarity that I have with the referent--if I know her/him, if I have a close relation with him/her, etc (and even in this case, I must intend to remark this familiarity):

(2) Lo vi a Carlos
[this is grammatical only if I know Carlos and I intend to stress that I know Carlos]

With definite nouns, it is ungrammatical in my dialect:

(3) *Lo vi al estudiante

So, it does not correlate with the famous Differential Object Marking (DOM, that is, the need to use a preposition "a" with +specific and +animate). Actually, in some dialects (3) is fine, and we even find dialects where clitic doubling is fine with objects that cannot receive this preposition:

(4) La vi una moto
[good in Argentinian Spanish]

This confirms that clitic doubling does not correlate with DOM. This means that clitic doubling is licensed by a kind of specificity that is different from the kind of specificity that licenses DOM (whatever that means). For my dialect, it needs more specificity that DOM. For Argentinian Spanish, it needs less.

Interestingly, there is a similar constraint in other aspect of the grammar. Normally (in all of Spanish), articles are not allowed with proper nouns:

(5) *El Juan

However, at least in my dialect, I can use articles if I am VERY familiar with the referent:

(6) El Toño
(7) La Mariella

In fact, the only persons whose name I can use with an article are my brother and my sister, and a couple of cousins I know since I was a child.

What is the significance of this? Do you people share my judgements? Is there any similar restriction in other languages/dialects?


At 2:33 AM, Blogger Daniel Salas said...

"Lo vi al estudiante" is very good in my dialect. However, "La vi la moto" surely not.

At 2:34 AM, Blogger Daniel Salas said...

About articles for proper names. What about famous people, in particular women?

La Thatcher.
La Callas.

Always with the last name. However, it does not seem to work with men.

At 5:40 AM, Blogger Miguel Rodríguez Mondoñedo said...

Yeah. I know. "Lo vi al estudiante" is good in many dialects. However "Lo vi a un estudiante" is not, which means there is no relation with DOM (the preposition a). And that is puzzling. Interestingly, DOM is consistent across Spanish dialects--and obviously no clitic doubling.

It is true standard Spanish allows "La Callas" but not "El Pavarotti". However, I have heard "El Belaunde" (to refer to a former Peruvian President), in non standard dialects. The sense of familiarity, again, is crucial.

At 1:24 PM, Anonymous alicia casuso said...

This topic got me thinking all week, and today something I said reminded it to me again:

-Me ha dado la flojera.

And other times I've also said:

-Me ha dado el hambre.

I use them only when I'm very tired or very hungry.

I'm not sure if I've imported this from the English (I've yet to think of an example) or if I am the only person who says things like that. If it is the latter, it still doesn't sound wrong.

I guess this time it has nothing to do with familiarity, but it's another example of articles in unusual places.

At 6:12 PM, Blogger Miguel Rodríguez Mondoñedo said...

Very interesting examples!
I'm not sure "familiarity" (or a similar concept) is out of it. I feel that we are dealing with something similar to this:

a. Murió el Papa
b. Se murió el Papa

(1b) is sort of informal (no appropriate as a headline in L'Observatore, for instance). As several researches point out, SE has the ability to delimitate the event, that is, it makes the event "definite", which them can be regarded as "familiar". These concepts are much related, and it is not so clear how (see Farkas 2002. Specificity Distinctions. Journal of Semantics 19:1-31 for an attempt to clarify).

Also a definite object can delimitate the event. Compare:

a. Comí manzanas (durante una hora)
b. Comí las manzanas (# durante una hora)

So, it is possible that in your examples---keep in mind that flojera and hambre are non-countable---the fact that they have a definite article triggers a delimitation of the event, that in turns allows the sentence to be use in “familiar” contexts. I would not use Me dio el hambre in a formal situation, for instance. This, of course, makes the notion of “familiarity” a little bit tricky, but it already is.


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