Monday, December 19, 2005

An evidentiality suffix in Spanish

It is well known that many languages convey evidentiality (the modality that expresses the speaker's attitude toward the evidence for his/her statement) by using a set of suffixes or particles. Let me put an example that does not belong to Spanish. Hidatsa (a native-american language from Missouri) has a “reportative” particle to express that the speaker was given the information by someone else, but s/he does not have sufficient evidence (it is a rumor, let’s say):

wacéo wíira rackí-heó rahe
man piepe carried REPORTATIVE
“The man carried the pipe, they say”
[from Palmer 2001 Mood and Modality: 42]

Interestingly, in Spanish, the conditional suffix -ría can play this role. It is the so called Conditional de Rumor:

(2) Brittney Spears ya estaría embarazada
[literally: Brittney Spears would be pregnant already]

Notice that the suffix -ría can be a normal conditional suffix too:

(3) Brittney Spears ya estaría embarazada si se hubiera casado con su amigo

Of course, like English, Spanish has several other means to mark the evidentiality (mainly, adverbs). What is interesting in this case is that also a suffix can do this job. Sentences like (2), however, are banned by the prescriptive discourse, although they are very common, even in standard speech (especially in the press).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

“Haber” agrees with its object

There are two dialects with respect to agreement in Spanish Existential Constructions (SEC) with haber (have, be): SI and SII. In SI the verb has default agreement (3er person, singular):

(1) Había dos hombres en la fiesta SI

but in SII, the verb agrees with the internal nominal:

(2) Habían dos hombres en la fiesta SII

despite the fact that the nominal is Accusative (acc), that is, that is not the subject but the object, as shown by the cliticization ((4) from (2)). The nominal is also acc in SI, but it does not agree with the verb ((3) from (1)):

(3) Los había SI
(4) Los habían SII

This difference has been attested by several researchers, and it seems to be present in Spanish at least from the XIV century. In the present times, SI is predominant in Peninsular Spanish, whereas SII is predominant in Latin American Spanish—see for instance, Bello (1847:§781) who denounces this agreement as an “almost universal vice”. But SII is also present in Peninsular Spanish as a non standard variety, and SI is usually imposed as a prescriptive rule in Latin American Spanish—so, in Latin American Spanish, it is not hard to find educated speakers with both SI and SII.

In SI and SII, the form for present tense is normally invariable: hay [áj] , which is exceptional because the element -y (a morphological fossil from an old locative clitic) blocks the agreement. In some dialects of SII, however, the exceptional form hay [áj] becomes haen [áen] or hayn [ájan], that is, it allows the plural -n to be suffixed to the verb, unblocking the effect of -y, as reported by Kany (1951: 257) for rural Argentinean, Lapesa (1980: § 133) for Substandard Venezuelan, and Montes (1982: 384) for Colombian Antioqueño.

I have written a paper on this issue. You can read it here. Comments welcome.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Nominative Objects, Quirky Subjects and “gustar”

Following similar analyses originally proposed for Icelandic, it is standard to assume that Spanish also has nominative objects and quirky subjects. For instance, in (1), [el chocolate] is a nominative object in agreement with the verb, and [A los niños] is the quirky subject (marked in Spanish, as in Icelandic and other languages, with dative expressions):

(1) A los niños les gusta el chocolate

However, sometimes a sentence with gustar (to like) can be constructed without dative clitic, and in the canonical order SVO:

(2) La idea gusta a sus habitantes
[From La República, a Peruvian newspaper, 12/05/05]

Is (2) an inversion of the canonical order or gustar can be use in other ways?