LINGUIST List 11.638

Tue Mar 21 2000

Sum: Spanish clitic "se"

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  1. Randy Sharp, Spanish clitic "se"

Message 1: Spanish clitic "se"

Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2000 14:53:39 -0800 (PST)
From: Randy Sharp <>
Subject: Spanish clitic "se"

For Query: Linguist 11.402

Dear Linguists,

Many thanks to all those who responded to my query on Spanish `se'. I
didn't expect such a degree of interest and information. I received
over 50 replies, with many valuable comments and references. Thank you
very much.

I cannot list all of the references here, but I will gladly forward the
list to anyone interested; there are approximately 100 references. The
most frequently cited was by far the following, from the funtionalist

 Garcia, Erica C. (1975) The Role of Theory in Linguistic Analysis: The
 Spanish Pronoun System, North-Holland Linguistic Series 19.

The second most-frequent was that of Ricardo Maldonado, in Langacker's
Cognitive Grammar framework:

 Maldonado, Ricardo (1988) 'Energetic Reflexives in Spanish.'
 Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society

 Maldonado, Ricardo (1992) Middle Voice: The Case of Spanish 'se'. San
 Diego: University of California doctoral dissertation.

 Maldonado, Ricardo (1993) 'Dynamic Construals in Spanish.' Studi
 Italiani di Linguistica Teorica e Applicata 22.531-566.

 Maldonado, Ricardo (1998) 'Datividad y Distancia Conceptual.' In Jos´┐Ż
 Luis Cifuentes Honrubia (ed.), Estudios de Linguistica Cognitiva II,
 687-705. Alicante: Universidad de Alicante, Departamento de Filologia
 Espanola, Linguistica General y Teoria de la Literatura.

 Maldonado, Ricardo (1999) A Media Voz: Problemas Conceptuales del
 Clitico se. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de
 Mexico. Instituto de Investigaciones Filologicas, Publicaciones 
 del Centro de Linguistica Hispanica 46.

As to my specific questions, I repeat them below and then present my
favorite answers (so far).

(1) What is the "se" in (i)b and (ii)b?
 (i) a. Lo comio todo. (sorry; no accents)
 b. Se lo comio todo.
 (ii) a. Metio las manos en los bolsillos.
 b. Se metio las menos en los bolsillos.

(2) Is there any explanation for why the spurious "se" is "se" and not
something else? For that matter, is there an explanation for why it even
occurs, other than "for phonological reasons"?

- ------------------------
Favorite answer(s) to (1):

"The examples that you give are what I've referred to as
'aspectual se'. The idea being that se marks completion of the
event. I have a 1996 article on it called:
'Compositionality of Aspect: Evidence from Spanish Aspectual se'
It is in the volume: Aspects of Romance Linguistics: Selected
Papers from LSRL XXIV, March 10-13, 1994. Washington, D.C.:
Georgetown University Press."
- Karen Zagona
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington

"I believe "se" not to be there by phonological reasons at all, but
because it is a functional category that signals Aktionsart (event type).
The event type it marks is "accomplishments", that is, telic events that
occur in steps towards an end. My work is on the Minimalist framework,
but it reviews all the theories of event types and lexical semantics. The
point could be made in any frmaework."
- Montserrat Sanz

Montserrat Sanz, Maria (1996) "Telicity, Objects and the Mapping onto
 Predicate Types: A Cross-Linguistic Study of the Role of Syntax in
 Processing.", PhD diss. University of Rochester. [see Chapter 2:
 "Transitivity and Aktionsart. Data From Spanish."]

- ---------------------
Favorite answer to (2):

"As for "spurious SE," it has absolutely nothing to do with the others;
in Old Spanish it was GE, pronounced [Ze] and then [Se] (the capitals
are intended for IPA yogh and long-S, i.e. "zh" and "sh") and
descending from the same etymon (Lat. ILLE) as e'l, ella, lo, la, le
etc. Old Spanish [Z] and [S] normally passed on to modern [x], but in a
few words they crossed with the [S]-like apical [s], and that's what
happened to GE -- it got confused with SE in early mod. Span. Whence the
name "spurious SE" -- and it has confounded students trying to learn the
pronoun system ever since." 
- Stan Whitley
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, NC

 Randy Sharp | tel: (604) 822-4256
 Department of Linguistics | fax: (604) 822-9687
 1866 Main Mall, Buchanan E270 | email:
 University of British Columbia |
 Vancouver, BC |
 Canada V6T 1Z1 |
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue