LINGUIST List 23.3596

Tue Aug 28 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics; Philosophy of Language; Spanish: Benot (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 28-Aug-2012
From: Laura Dubcovsky <>
Subject: Arte de Hablar
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AUTHOR: Eduardo BenotTITLE: Arte de HablarSUBTITLE: Gramática Filosófica de la Lengua CastellanaSERIES TITLE: Lincom Classica Vol. 14PUBLISHER: LINCOMYEAR: 2012

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


“Arte de Hablar. Gramática Filosófica” (‘The Art of Speaking. PhilosophicalGrammar’), consists of the complete version of Benot’s book published in 1910.It has biographic notes written by his disciple, José Torres Reina, andpublished in the Heraldo de Madrid in December, 1905. Torres Reina complementedBenot’s grammar with notes on his personal life and his working conditions as ateacher, politician, thinker, and orator. He also wrote the prologue thatemphasizes 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, percibeúnicamente relaciones, y procede siempre por abstracción y generalización alformar sus ideas” (“In speaking, we carry out three fundamental and necessaryoperations: DETERMINING, CONNECTING, STATING. The human spirit, withoutaptitudes to probe at all, only perceives relationships and always proceeds byabstraction and generalization in forming its ideas” (prologue, xvii).

“Arte de Hablar. Gramática Filosófica” presents four parts, each of them dividedin sections as follows: Part One includes nine sections and addressespreliminary notions; Part Two focuses on combination forms of complete andindependent meaning through five sections; Part Three explores sentence systemsin three sections; and Part Four explores the ending systems in five sections,respectively. The first section of Part One elaborates on preliminary notions oforal and written signs, including vowels and consonants, roots and affixes usedfor word formation, accents, and syllabification procedures in Spanish. SectionTwo defines independent and dependent clauses and their illocutionarycombinations, giving particular attention to the meanings and limitations ofword extension and comprehension. The following three sections address verbendings and conjugations: Section Three situates verbs within the clausalcombination; 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. WhileSection Six completes the word level analysis by classifying determiner anddeterminable words, including some changes in word meanings, Section Seven leadsto the clause level analysis, placing content words, conjunctions anddeterminers in sentence combinations. The section closes with a well-roundedsummary of key notions explained throughout Part One that builds Benot’s“language architecture.” The final two sections of Part One focus on the use ofspecial combinations, such as interjections and conjunctions (Section Eight),and abnormalities found in some constructions and idiomatic expressions (SectionNine).

The second part of this book describes the verbal classification and itsspecific nominative, accusative and dative cases used in independent clauses. Inthe first section, verbs are classified following meaningful and structuralcriteria. As a result, distinctions are made between absolute and relative typesof impersonal verbs, transitive and intransitive verbs, and verbs that requireone or more words to convey complete meaning. This section also discussesgrammatical persons and their corresponding endings, in light of verb agreementwith nominal, accusative and dative cases. Section Two explains general uses ofthe reflexive form, while Section Three focuses on the passive voice formationin Spanish, by using either the copulative verb “ser/estar” (‘to be’)” or thereflexive “se” form. Section Four describes reflexive forms, possible meanings,ambiguities and exceptions, and special agreement in the passive voice. The lastsection explains the dative case in depth, following previous classificationsbased on meaningful, structural and functional criteria. This section alsopinpoints co-occurrences between dative and accusative cases and concludes witha graphic synopsis of the mentioned categories.

Part Three of this grammatical book describes sentence systems; followingadjectival, adverbial and nominal characteristics. Section One takes up theadjectival sentence system, explaining gender and number agreements in both theactive and passive voice. It also presents a classification based on accusative,dative, genitive and ablative determination, and closes with a thorough chartthat shows examples and possibilities of these classes and species. Section Twodescribes the adverbial complex system, emphasizing relations of time, place,manner, purpose and cause, both in finite (i.e. with a conjugated verb) andnon-finite (i.e. non-conjugated verb) clauses. Special attention is given toconditional sentences, emphasizing the appropriate conjunctions and temporalsequences needed in these constructions. Furthermore, the section focuses oncomparative and superlative formations in Spanish, including relative, absoluteand special constructions. Section Three explains the nominal complex system,including its main characteristics and necessary conjunctions. It emphasizesparticular verbs that introduce nominal constructions, such as those ofunderstanding, for example, “conviene que” (‘it is convenient that’) and “espreciso 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 gustaque”(‘I like that’) and “me alegra que” (‘it pleases me that’), and highlightsneeded 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 ofinfinitives, as well as on time, mood, person and number inflections. The firstsection presents the paradigms of regular verbs, such as “hablar” (‘to speak’),“aprender” (‘to learn’) and “aplaudir” (‘to applaud’), and irregular verbs, suchas “haber” (auxiliary) and “ser” (‘to be’). The second section follows aconceptual classification of verbs within independent clauses, reviewing notionsof “absolute” and “relative” as used in the present, past, and future tenses andin affirmative, negative and interrogative sentences. The final three sectionsfollow 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 nominalmeanings. Finally, Section Four gives special attention to meanings of certaintyand uncertainty included in adjectival dependent clauses, while Section Fivefocuses on specific verbs and conjunctions with adverbial functions, as well ason 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, lavoluntad, 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 TODAENUNCIACIÓN. Pero toda enunciación ha de referirse necesariamente á algo. Deotro modo nuestras afirmaciones, negaciones, etc. recaen siempre sobre una ó másindividualidades. Y para que no quepa duda acerca de cuál puede ser el objeto denuestra enunciación, esas individualidades están necesitadas de unaDETERMINACIÓN” (415).

('When we speak we externalize our inner being: thoughts, feelings, and willseek 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 everystatement must necessarily refer to something. Otherwise our affirmations,denials, etc. always fall on one or more individuals. And make no mistake aboutwhat may be the object of our utterances; these individual units are in need ofa DETERMINATION.')


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

Among the preliminary notions of Part One, Benot explains with eloquence andwisdom the concepts of ‘word extension’ and ‘comprehension.’ He details two waysto increase comprehension, both by adding demonstrative, possessive or qualitywords 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 completeexpression that may contain demonstratives, possessives and qualities, as in “tucaballo inglés de cinco años es negro” (‘your 5 year old English horse isblack’). Within the expressive endings are diminutives, such as “caballito”(‘little horse’), and superlatives, such as “caballo grandísimo” (‘a very largehorse’). Likewise, Benot explains two ways to limit word extension, both throughisolated words and word endings. The former are represented by articles andcardinal and ordinal numbers, such as “el caballo” (‘the horse”), “dos caballos”(‘two horses’), and “el tercer caballo”(‘the third horse’), respectively. Wordendings 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, healways considers meaningful implications. For example, Section Six of Part Oneexposes word order based on determining and determiner words. Benot includesexamples that illustrate clear changes of meanings as a result of word orderalternations, such as “El Rey Profeta” (‘the prophet king’),where “prophet” is amodifier 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 bothstructure and meaning, as well as nominative and accusative cases. Within histhorough classification, Benot discusses topics of agency and position, whichhold validity for current grammatical discussions. Within the nominative case,for example, Benot makes a distinction between impersonal verbs of the followingtypes: 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 ina Sevillian barber’s house’); and those with real agents, as in “El hombretrabajaba” (‘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 therange of interested audiences. Sometimes Benot offers examples which are richerand more vivacious than the wordy and, at times, difficult explanations. This isthe case for some uses of the verb “caer” (‘to fall’), where Benot bringsinteresting and clear sentences to the table, such as “Esa calle cae hacia losbarrios bajos” (‘That street falls toward the slums’), “Yo caigo en ello” (‘Irealize this’) (p. 115), which are buried under more arid explanation. Moreover,the present edition remains a little short in providing information about theauthor. For example, a chronological chart that situates Benot’s work within asocio-cultural framework would have been appreciated by all readers. Likewise,more information about his disciple, Torres Reina, would also have helped, inorder to better appreciate the biographical notes and the prologue. As a finalsuggestion, this new publication could have presented some paragraphs translatedinto English, which would also allow for appeal to an audience interested inSpanish linguistics that does not yet have solid control of certain historicalforms 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.

Page Updated: 28-Aug-2012