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Review of  Arte de Hablar

Reviewer: Laura Dubcovsky
Book Title: Arte de Hablar
Book Author: Eduardo Benot
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Philosophy of Language
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 23.3596

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AUTHOR: Eduardo Benot
TITLE: Arte de Hablar
SUBTITLE: Gramática Filosófica de la Lengua Castellana
SERIES TITLE: Lincom Classica Vol. 14
YEAR: 2012

Laura Dubcovsky, School of Education, University of California, Davis


“Arte de Hablar. Gramática Filosófica” (‘The Art of Speaking. Philosophical
Grammar’), consists of the complete version of Benot’s book published in 1910.
It has biographic notes written by his disciple, José Torres Reina, and
published in the Heraldo de Madrid in December, 1905. Torres Reina complemented
Benot’s grammar with notes on his personal life and his working conditions as a
teacher, politician, thinker, and orator. He also wrote the prologue that
emphasizes the three main linguistic operations proposed in this book:
determination, connection, and enunciation. In Benot’s words, “Al hablar,
realizamos tres operaciones fundamentales y necesarias; DETERMINAR, CONEXIONAR,
ENUNCIAR. El espíritu humano, sin aptitudes para sondar en lo absoluto, percibe
únicamente relaciones, y procede siempre por abstracción y generalización al
formar sus ideas” (“In speaking, we carry out three fundamental and necessary
operations: DETERMINING, CONNECTING, STATING. The human spirit, without
aptitudes to probe at all, only perceives relationships and always proceeds by
abstraction and generalization in forming its ideas” (prologue, xvii).

“Arte de Hablar. Gramática Filosófica” presents four parts, each of them divided
in sections as follows: Part One includes nine sections and addresses
preliminary notions; Part Two focuses on combination forms of complete and
independent meaning through five sections; Part Three explores sentence systems
in three sections; and Part Four explores the ending systems in five sections,
respectively. The first section of Part One elaborates on preliminary notions of
oral and written signs, including vowels and consonants, roots and affixes used
for word formation, accents, and syllabification procedures in Spanish. Section
Two defines independent and dependent clauses and their illocutionary
combinations, giving particular attention to the meanings and limitations of
word extension and comprehension. The following three sections address verb
endings and conjugations: Section Three situates verbs within the clausal
combination; Section Four focuses on the relationship between verbs and nouns,
with special emphasis on the uses of nominative, accusative and dative cases;
and Section Five explores verbs in combination with adverbs and ablatives. While
Section Six completes the word level analysis by classifying determiner and
determinable words, including some changes in word meanings, Section Seven leads
to the clause level analysis, placing content words, conjunctions and
determiners in sentence combinations. The section closes with a well-rounded
summary of key notions explained throughout Part One that builds Benot’s
“language architecture.” The final two sections of Part One focus on the use of
special combinations, such as interjections and conjunctions (Section Eight),
and abnormalities found in some constructions and idiomatic expressions (Section

The second part of this book describes the verbal classification and its
specific nominative, accusative and dative cases used in independent clauses. In
the first section, verbs are classified following meaningful and structural
criteria. As a result, distinctions are made between absolute and relative types
of impersonal verbs, transitive and intransitive verbs, and verbs that require
one or more words to convey complete meaning. This section also discusses
grammatical persons and their corresponding endings, in light of verb agreement
with nominal, accusative and dative cases. Section Two explains general uses of
the reflexive form, while Section Three focuses on the passive voice formation
in Spanish, by using either the copulative verb “ser/estar” (‘to be’)” or the
reflexive “se” form. Section Four describes reflexive forms, possible meanings,
ambiguities and exceptions, and special agreement in the passive voice. The last
section explains the dative case in depth, following previous classifications
based on meaningful, structural and functional criteria. This section also
pinpoints co-occurrences between dative and accusative cases and concludes with
a graphic synopsis of the mentioned categories.

Part Three of this grammatical book describes sentence systems; following
adjectival, adverbial and nominal characteristics. Section One takes up the
adjectival sentence system, explaining gender and number agreements in both the
active and passive voice. It also presents a classification based on accusative,
dative, genitive and ablative determination, and closes with a thorough chart
that shows examples and possibilities of these classes and species. Section Two
describes the adverbial complex system, emphasizing relations of time, place,
manner, purpose and cause, both in finite (i.e. with a conjugated verb) and
non-finite (i.e. non-conjugated verb) clauses. Special attention is given to
conditional sentences, emphasizing the appropriate conjunctions and temporal
sequences needed in these constructions. Furthermore, the section focuses on
comparative and superlative formations in Spanish, including relative, absolute
and special constructions. Section Three explains the nominal complex system,
including its main characteristics and necessary conjunctions. It emphasizes
particular verbs that introduce nominal constructions, such as those of
understanding, for example, “conviene que” (‘it is convenient that’) and “es
preciso que” (‘it must’), verbs of will, such as “quiero que” (‘I want that’)
and “prometo que” (‘I promise that’) and verbs of feelings, such as “me gusta
que”(‘I like that’) and “me alegra que” (‘it pleases me that’), and highlights
needed temporal verb sequences. It also revisits nominative, accusative, dative,
and ablative cases as used in phrases and sentences.

Part Four focuses on Spanish verbs based on the -ar, -er, -ir endings of
infinitives, as well as on time, mood, person and number inflections. The first
section presents the paradigms of regular verbs, such as “hablar” (‘to speak’),
“aprender” (‘to learn’) and “aplaudir” (‘to applaud’), and irregular verbs, such
as “haber” (auxiliary) and “ser” (‘to be’). The second section follows a
conceptual classification of verbs within independent clauses, reviewing notions
of “absolute” and “relative” as used in the present, past, and future tenses and
in affirmative, negative and interrogative sentences. The final three sections
follow the same verbal classification within dependent clauses of nominal
(Section Three), adjectival (Section Four) and adverbial (Section Five)
characteristics. Section Three particularly explores sensing and mental verbs,
in addition to some uses of the subjunctive mood in clauses with nominal
meanings. Finally, Section Four gives special attention to meanings of certainty
and uncertainty included in adjectival dependent clauses, while Section Five
focuses on specific verbs and conjunctions with adverbial functions, as well as
on infinitives, gerunds and participles used in dependent adverbial clauses.

The book ends with a synthesis of Benot’s main ideas of determination,
connection, and enunciation, as he writes the following:

“Al hablar exteriorizamos nuestro ser íntimo: el pensamiento, el sentimiento, la
voluntad, buscan en el lenguaje su expresión más adecuada. Afirmar, negar,
interrogar, exponer ó narrar, evidenciar o demostrar, manifestar deseo,
admiración, extrañeza, repugnancia, etc., etc. son siempre EL FIN DE TODA
ENUNCIACIÓN. Pero toda enunciación ha de referirse necesariamente á algo. De
otro modo nuestras afirmaciones, negaciones, etc. recaen siempre sobre una ó más
individualidades. Y para que no quepa duda acerca de cuál puede ser el objeto de
nuestra enunciación, esas individualidades están necesitadas de una

('When we speak we externalize our inner being: thoughts, feelings, and will
seek their more appropriate expression in language. Affirm, deny, question,
expose or narrate, evidence or demonstrate, manifest desire, admiration,
surprise, disgust, etc., etc. are always THE END OF ALL UTTERANCES. But every
statement must necessarily refer to something. Otherwise our affirmations,
denials, etc. always fall on one or more individuals. And make no mistake about
what may be the object of our utterances; these individual units are in need of


“Arte de Hablar. Gramática Filosófica” is an essential grammar book written in
and commenting on Spanish. The re-edition of Benot’s original grammar will be
very well received by language historians and philologists interested in studies
on Spanish language development from a historical perspective. Scholars will
have access to an old text book which holds valid and substantial grammatical
concepts. Moreover, Torres Reina offers a clear introduction that highlights the
main points of this work, thus facilitating its reading, especially for young
scholars. Although the grammar book presents some dense concepts written in an
old-fashioned style of Spanish, explanations are clear and straightforward.
Benot shows his pedagogical skills by offering numerous examples for each of the
notions, as well as comprehensive summaries and charts at the end of each part,
making the manual more accessible. Even less specialized audiences will be
pleasantly surprised by the completeness of explanations, which link grammar to
philosophy, as stated in the title of the book. Moreover, both the erudite and
lay public will enjoy the applicability of some of Benot’s concepts to today’s
Spanish grammar.

Among the preliminary notions of Part One, Benot explains with eloquence and
wisdom the concepts of ‘word extension’ and ‘comprehension.’ He details two ways
to increase comprehension, both by adding demonstrative, possessive or quality
words or by expressive endings of qualities. For example, given the word
“caballo” (‘horse’), we can increase its comprehension by adding one more word,
such as the determiner, “este caballo” (‘this horse’) or with a complete
expression that may contain demonstratives, possessives and qualities, as in “tu
caballo inglés de cinco años es negro” (‘your 5 year old English horse is
black’). Within the expressive endings are diminutives, such as “caballito”
(‘little horse’), and superlatives, such as “caballo grandísimo” (‘a very large
horse’). Likewise, Benot explains two ways to limit word extension, both through
isolated words and word endings. The former are represented by articles and
cardinal and ordinal numbers, such as “el caballo” (‘the horse”), “dos caballos”
(‘two horses’), and “el tercer caballo”(‘the third horse’), respectively. Word
endings refer to number (i.e. singular and plural), as in “caballo, caballos”
(‘horse, horses’), where changes only affect the extension of the word.

Benot never limits his presentations to structural explanations only; rather, he
always considers meaningful implications. For example, Section Six of Part One
exposes word order based on determining and determiner words. Benot includes
examples that illustrate clear changes of meanings as a result of word order
alternations, such as “El Rey Profeta” (‘the prophet king’),where “prophet” is a
modifier of “king”, as opposed to “El Profeta Rey” (‘The king prophet’) where
“prophet” is the substance. Another strong contribution is given in Part Two,
where Benot lays out a comprehensive verb classification scheme following both
structure and meaning, as well as nominative and accusative cases. Within his
thorough classification, Benot discusses topics of agency and position, which
hold validity for current grammatical discussions. Within the nominative case,
for example, Benot makes a distinction between impersonal verbs of the following
types: those without agency, such as “llueve” (‘It rains’); those with pseudo-
agency, as in “Juan se afeita en casa de un barbero sevillano” (‘Juan shaves in
a Sevillian barber’s house’); and those with real agents, as in “El hombre
trabajaba” (‘The man used to work’)

In spite of the mentioned strengths, this historical book also has limitations.
First of all, since it is written in an old-fashioned style, it restricts the
range of interested audiences. Sometimes Benot offers examples which are richer
and more vivacious than the wordy and, at times, difficult explanations. This is
the case for some uses of the verb “caer” (‘to fall’), where Benot brings
interesting and clear sentences to the table, such as “Esa calle cae hacia los
barrios bajos” (‘That street falls toward the slums’), “Yo caigo en ello” (‘I
realize this’) (p. 115), which are buried under more arid explanation. Moreover,
the present edition remains a little short in providing information about the
author. For example, a chronological chart that situates Benot’s work within a
socio-cultural framework would have been appreciated by all readers. Likewise,
more information about his disciple, Torres Reina, would also have helped, in
order to better appreciate the biographical notes and the prologue. As a final
suggestion, this new publication could have presented some paragraphs translated
into English, which would also allow for appeal to an audience interested in
Spanish linguistics that does not yet have solid control of certain historical
forms of Spanish.

Laura Dubcovsky is a lecturer and supervisor in the teacher education program at UC Davis. She has a Master’s in Education and a PhD in Spanish linguistics with special emphasis on second language acquisition. Her areas of interest combine the field of language and education. She is dedicated to the preparation of prospective Spanish/English teachers, and has presented her preparation course in different forums. She analyzes linguistic features of both bilingual teachers and children, drawing from a Systemic Functional Language approach, e.g., in her 2008 article, ‘Functions of the verb decir ('to say') in the incipient academic Spanish writing of bilingual children,’ which appears in Functions of Language, 15(2), 257-280.

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