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Review of  Esbozo de una Gramática Viva del Español, una Gramática Centrada en el Verbo

Reviewer: Zahir Mumin
Book Title: Esbozo de una Gramática Viva del Español, una Gramática Centrada en el Verbo
Book Author: Norma Corrales-Martin
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.2178

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AUTHOR: Corrales-Martín, Norma
TITLE: Esbozo de una gramática viva del español
SUBTITLE: una gramática centrada en el verbo
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Romance Linguistics. Vol. 66
YEAR: 2010

Zahir Mumin, Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, University at
Albany, State University of New York (SUNY)


Corrales-Martín proposes an innovative morphosyntactic orientation for native
English-speaking students learning Spanish grammar within the context of
Hispanic songs and literary texts by presenting the phrase structure model
V(Verb) + N(Noun) x(modifiers and complements). She identifies Spanish verbs as
centerpieces of sentences and examines nouns, their modifiers, and their
complements as equal ranking entities in relation to verbs. Her main argument
prioritizes verbs over nouns, as opposed to the traditional phrase structure
model (Nominal Syntagma + Verbal Syntagma + Prepositional Syntagma), which
prioritizes nouns over verbs. The author's teaching methodology attempts to
develop students' cultural, grammatical, and linguistic knowledge by exposing
them to song lyrics that exhibit authentic syntactic structures. Corrales-Martín
organizes the book using seven modules that address issues dealing with syntax
and morphology, while also explicating different phonological and semantic
aspects of Spanish.

In Module 1, the author's main objective is to develop students' communicative
and cultural competence through a morphosyntactic analysis of Spanish grammar as
a dynamic semantic continuum. She argues that students must grasp how language
is employed by different Spanish-speaking cultures in order to enhance their
overall linguistic knowledge. Corrales-Martín supports this argument by
providing general student objectives, such as understanding how to relate
language to culture, in order to improve students' writing and communication
skills. The author also briefly defines language, phonetics, phonology,
morphology, syntax, and semantics in order to argue that language consists of
knowledge objects derived from grammar. These knowledge objects, often used to
transmit messages between interlocutors, include frequent changes in sounds,
verbal inflection, word order, and basic word-level meaning. The proposed phrase
structure model applies knowledge objects to different contextual situations in
Hispanic songs and literary texts to facilitate students' acquisition of Spanish

Module 2 provides a two-part classroom activity designed to develop students'
writing, listening comprehension, reading, and speaking skills. The first part
of the activity furnishes students with a detailed analysis guide questionnaire
which includes six semantic categories. This questionnaire requires students to
practice writing, listening comprehension, and speaking by examining the
dialectal traits of different singers, the geographical and social contexts in
which the songs are written, and the potential stereotypes conveyed through the
main messages of the songs. The second part of this activity enhances students'
reading skills through analysis of song lyrics according to verb type (simple,
compound, or periphrastic), verb mood (indicative, subjunctive, and imperative),
and agent. The author defines 'agent' as the linguistic entity that carries out
an action, which may or may not be explicitly expressed by Spanish verbs.
Corrales-Martín gives the example, ''Estoy pensando[,] agente (yo)'' (''I am
thinking[,] agent (I),'' p.7), where the first person indicative present tense
verb ''estoy'' (''I am'') is the auxiliary verb which represents the agent using the
syntactic construction Verb+Gerund. She also provides a second example, ''Sale el
sol[,] agente, el sol'' (''The sun rises[,] agent, the sun,'' p.7) where the third
person present tense verb ''sale'' (''rises'') expresses the theme and ''el sol''
represents the agent and rheme employing the language structure Verb+Noun
Phrase. The module overall emphasizes students' ability to first identify the
different functions of Spanish verbs and then examine the surrounding linguistic
entities of these verbs to enhance their acquisition of Spanish grammar.

Module 3 discusses how the semantic-communicative process and the concept of
reality should be applied to teaching Spanish grammar in order to argue that
students' successful development of linguistic-communicative competence depends
on their ability to objectively conceptualize language as a social product. To
support this argument, the author provides a semantic map of the aforementioned
process, which includes interlocutors, discourse components, and referents, to
accentuate that communication between human beings should be examined through
the function and meaning of words in different contextual situations.
Corrales-Martín also portrays the concept of reality as a dynamic, multifaceted
system that represents human beings' interpretations of the relationship between
actions and objects and between quantities and qualities. For example, ''llover
duro'' (''to rain hard,'' p.9) describes rainy weather as an action, but ''lluvia
suave'' (''a light rainfall,'' p.9) expresses rain as an object. The adjective
''duro'' (''hard'') represents the quantity of rainfall by modifying the action
''llover'' (''to rain''), and ''suave'' (''light'') represents the quantity of rainfall
by modifying the object ''lluvia'' (''rain''). The author concludes the module by
reinforcing the aforementioned argument through analysis of the
semantic-communicative process and different aspects of reality manifested in
the popular Spanish ballad ''las señas del marido'' (''The Husband's Description'').

In Module 4, Corrales-Martín argues that the process of identifying grammatical
categories should focus on the actions that verbs express in order to determine
how surrounding words function in relation to these verbs. Through analysis of
predicate phrase structure, the author differentiates between noun-adjectives
used in response to questions and regular adjectives that are not used in
response to questions. In the first case, ''[Eso] está [malo]'' (''[That] is
[bad],'' p.16), ''[malo]'' (''[bad]'') functions as a noun-adjective that primarily
modifies the action of the verb ''está'' (''is'') and secondarily modifies the
neuter demonstrative pronoun ''[eso]'' (''[that]''). In the second case, ''Canto [de
momentos malos]'' (''I sing [about bad moments],'' p.16), ''[…malos]'' (''[…bad…]'')
functions as a regular adjective that modifies the proper noun ''[…momentos…]''
(''[…moments]''). In addition to differentiating functions of words, the author
defines Saussure et al.’s (2006) concepts of signifier (the linguistic form),
signified (the meaning of the linguistic form), and referent (the object that
represents the linguistic form) in order to highlight the interrelatedness of
morphology and syntax when examining verbs as the main linguistic entities of
Spanish language structures. The last part of the module focuses on how linking
words such as conjunctions, prepositions, and relative pronouns help clarify the
syntactic meaning of verbs used in different contexts.

Module 5 discusses basic case relationships that focus on how different
linguistic entities such as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs function in relation
to verbs. The author's examination of these relationships includes the
identification of agents, patients (recipients of actions), and experiencers
(linguistic entities indirectly affected by actions), as well as constituent
groups which help explain how, why, and when actions occur. Corrales-Martín
argues that ''Esbozo de una gramática viva del español'' (''Outline of a Lively
Spanish Grammar'') is a metaphoric grammatical extension of Charles Fillmore's
(1968) study of case grammar in his article ''The case for case.'' This
grammatical extension argument is supported by analyses of cases of agents in
the active and passive voice. The author argues that when analyzing cases such
as ''Yo canto una canción/Una canción es cantada por mí'' (''I sing a song/A song
is sung by myself,'' p.26), the agent of the action is not always the agent of
the verb. In the first sentence of this example, in active voice, ''yo'' (''I'') is
the agent of both the action of singing and the first person present tense verb
''canto'' (''sing''). In the second sentence of this example, in passive voice, ''una
canción'' (''a song'') is the agent of the action of singing and ''mí'' (''myself'') is
the agent of the verb ''es'' (''is''). The author further substantiates these
analyses by providing matrix tables that explicitly demonstrate how case
relationships should be interpreted when examining Spanish verbs as centerpieces
of Spanish language structures.

In Module 6, the author establishes the following two main arguments about basic
constituent structures of the Spanish language:

1) Native Spanish speakers intuitively recognize when semantic and unsemantic
combinations of words used to form sentences are expressed grammatically or

2) The different constituent groups in Spanish language structures have
protonoun nuclei which provide essential content information in response to
questions about actions expressed by Spanish verbs.

Corrales-Martín supports the first argument through a grammatical and semantic
analysis of Chomsky's (1997) well-known syntactically complex sentence, ''Las
ideas verdes incoloras duermen furiosamente'' (''Colorless green ideas sleep
furiously,'' p. 46) and her own syntactically comparable contribution,
''*Incoloras furiosamente ideas las duermen verdes'' (''*Colorless furiously ideas
the sleep green,'' p. 46). She argues that Chomsky's sentence is grammatical but
unsemantic based on the peculiar combination of words that do not pragmatically
convey an intelligible message in a real-life context. The author also argues
that her comparable example sentence is both ungrammatical and unsemantic
because in addition to the unintelligible pragmatic message being conveyed, the
syntactic structure of the sentence does not produce a coherent grammatical
composition. The author's second argument also examines grammatical and semantic
issues dealing with how constituent groups function in different Spanish
language structures. Corrales-Martín strengthens the second argument by
examining how words function in relation to verbs when they are organized into
constituent groups and identified by different grammatical categories. The
author employs a wide variety of common Spanish proverbs in order to explicate
the relationship between constituent groups, grammatical categories, and actions
expressed by Spanish verbs, e.g. ''[Quien] [a hierro] mata] [a hierro] muere''
(''He who kills by the sword, dies by the sword,'' p. 50). In this example, the
author identifies ''[quien]'' (''[he who]'') as a linking pronoun and separate
constituent group that structurally relates the actions of both verbs ''[mata]''
(''kills'') and ''[muere]'' (''dies'') on an equivalent syntactic rank. The two
constituent groups ''[a hierro]'' (''[by the sword]''), with the preposition ''a''
(''by'') and the protonoun nucleus ''hierro'' (''sword''), complete the pragmatic
meaning of the following verbs' actions: ''mata'' (''kills'') and ''muere'' (''dies'').
The module concludes by furnishing readers with a sample in-class activity that
requires students to identify how prepositions and protonoun nuclei function in
different constituent groups.

Module 7 examines different grammatical concepts which often challenge students'
learning of Spanish morphosyntax: the use of pronouns, the use of verbals
(gerunds, past participles, and infinitive forms of verbs), and the employment
of the prepositions ''por'' (''for'') and ''para'' (''for''), which often have different
meanings and morphosyntactic representation and functions in English. The author
argues that these concepts should be learned based on how they relate to the
actions expressed by Spanish verbs. For example, Corrales-Martín analyzes the
intransitive Spanish linguistic structure ''yo te gusto'' (''You like me,'' p.83) to
demonstrate that the indirect object pronoun ''te'' (''you'') is the experiencer of
the action, the subject pronoun ''yo'' (''me'') redundantly expresses the agent of
the action, and the verb ''gusto'' (''like'') expresses the agent of the action and
the verb. She further substantiates this argument through an analysis of the
phrase ''mi razón para vivir'' (''My reason for living,'' p. 66) when discussing
cases of ''para'' (''for'') and ''por'' (''for''). Cases of ''para'' (''for'') indicate the
finality of the verb's action and cases of ''por'' (''for'') express the reason of
the verb's action. In the example above, the preposition ''para'' (''for'')
expresses finality by relating the noun ''razón'' (''reason'') to the action of the
verb ''vivir'' (''living''), which also functions as a verbal in the infinitive
form. However, in the case of ''mi razón por vivir'' (''My reason for living''),
which the author does not mention, ''por'' (''for'') expresses reason by relating
the noun ''razón'' (''reason'') to the action of the verb ''vivir'' (''living'')
(Delbeque 1996, Lam 2003). The last part of this module expands on the use of
these grammatical concepts by examining language structures in the present and
past subjunctive mood. Throughout this module, the author provides examples of
student-centered activities, such as fill-in-the-blank and underlining key
words, to show how students develop the ability to identify the uses of the
aforementioned grammatical concepts when dealing with present and past actions.


The author made an excellent decision to structure the book using 7 modules
instead of 7 chapters because the main content in these modules is not
interdependent. For example, the detailed identification of grammatical
categories in Module 4 is not essential for understanding the constituent
structure analyses in Module 6. Module 4 focuses on how single words
morphosyntactically function in relation to verbs, whereas Module 6 focuses on
how groups of words morphosyntactically and semantically function in relation to
verbs. Due to the fact that there is not content interdependence in these
modules, they can be read separately, in any order, and still be accurately

Although Module 1 furnishes clear objectives for developing students' Spanish
language skills by exposing them to Hispanic songs and well-known literary
texts, it can be enhanced by providing brief examples of common song lyrics,
sayings, and literary prose which have been highly successful for developing
students' knowledge of grammar and communicative competence. Presenting these
types of examples in the first module is important for facilitating instructors'
ability to employ the author's teaching methodology.

The semantic categories of the analysis guide questionnaire used in Module 2 are
very well structured through small concepts that develop into larger concepts.
This structure, which starts with a personal analysis (students' general
opinions) and concludes with a cultural analysis of Hispanic songs, allows
students to effectively build their writing and listening comprehension skills.
However, providing definitions for these semantic categories at the beginning of
this module would facilitate the understanding of the questionnaire with regard
to the author's semantic interpretation of personal, form, content, linguistic,
communicative, and cultural analysis.

Module 3 uses the same structural pattern of all of the other modules, except
Module 2, by first providing definitions of important general concepts and then
furnishing examples which apply these concepts to Spanish grammar instruction.
The consistency of this structural pattern in six of the seven modules enhances
the author’s teaching methodology; Corrales-Martín mirrors the authenticity of
her teaching methodology in the structure of this book. She also mirrors this
authenticity in morphosyntactic analyses of Spanish grammar. For example, the
author employs the phrase ''ley y gobierno'' (''law and government,'' p. 9) to
demonstrate that the coordinating conjunction ''y'' (''and'') relates the
sociocultural reality between legislation, ''ley'' (''law''), and people, ''gobierno''
(''government''), on an equal structural rank. Overall, this module is very useful
for developing students' linguistic and communicative competence in different
contextual situations.

Modules 4-7 provide very clear and meticulous definitions for grammatical
categories, such as noun-adverbs, regular adverbs, noun-adjectives, regular
adjectives, and pronouns, in order to facilitate the understanding of analyses
dealing with the identification of agent, patient, and experiencer. Corrales
Martín furnishes the following definition for noun-adverbs:

El nombre adverbio se refiere exclusivamente al cómo, cuánto, cuándo y dónde del
verbo. Los adverbios son de modo, [']bien, mal['], cantidad, [']mucho, poco['],
tiempo, [']ahora, nunca['], lugar, [']aquí, allá,['], etc. El nombre adverbio no
cambia de género o número y su único determinante es un adverbio, [Todo] está
[muy bien] (p. 16).

The noun-adverb refers exclusively to the how, how much, when, and where of the
verb. Adverbs are of the manner, [']good, bad['], quantity, [']a lot, a few['],
time, [']now, never['], place, [']here, there,['], etc. The noun-adverb does not
change in gender or number and its only determiner is an adverb, [Everything] is
[very well] (p. 16).

All of these modules emphasize that noun-adverbs function different from regular
adverbs because noun-adverbs provide necessary content information in response
to a question. For example, in the above citation, ''[Todo] está [muy bien]''
(''[Everything is very well]''), the noun-adverb of manner, ''bien'' (''well''),
furnishes imperative content information in response to the question, ''¿Cómo
está todo?'' (''How is everything?''). The author's explicated definitions, as well
as context appropriate examples in Modules 4-7, clearly demonstrate how to
enhance students' acquisition of Spanish grammar by employing authentic
syntactic structures.

This book targets readers who are interested in applying linguistic concepts of
Spanish morphosyntax and semantics to different contextual situations of
Hispanic songs and literary texts in order to facilitate native English-speaking
students' Spanish grammatical acquisition. It is very useful for instructors and
advanced-level second or foreign language learners. The book furnishes three
different appendices which include a glossary of common terminology, a list of
Hispanic songs used for teaching Spanish language structures, and an answer key
for some of the in-class activities presented in Modules 3-7.


Chomsky, Noam. (1997). Estructuras sintácticas. 12th edn. Mexico, D.F.: Siglo

Delbecque, Nicole. (1996). Towards a cognitive account of the use of the
prepositions por and para in Spanish. In Eugene H. Casad (ed.). Cognitive
Linguistics in the Redwoods: The Expansion of a New Paradigm in Linguistics.
Berlin, DE: Mouton de Gruyter. 249-318.

de Saussure, Ferdinand, Simon Boquet & Rudolf Engler (eds.). (2006). Writing in
General Linguistics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Fillmore, Charles. (1968). The case for case. In Emmon Bach & Robert Harms.
Universals in Linguistic Theory. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1-90.

Lam, Yvonne. (2003). Challenging Prepositions: The Effectiveness of
Interrelating Rules for Teaching por and para in Spanish in a Second Language.
Toronto, CA: University of Toronto Press.

Zahir Mumin teaches Spanish courses at the University at Albany, State University of New York and conducts research in the field of linguistics. His primary research interests include sociolinguistics, phonology, phonetics, translation, language acquisition, language contact, bilingualism, multilingualism, language change, and historical linguistics.