Displaced persons

A paper on the pronouns usted and ustedes by Miguel A. Aijón Oliva will be published in 2018 by the Hispanic Studies Review. It presents an investigation of the functional variation of these pronouns according to several features, and how the patterns obtained can be interpreted in cognitive terms. Usted and ustedes—to be respectively translated as you+ and you all+—entail a discordance between grammatical form and reference, insofar as they come from third-person NPs—vuestra merced and its plural—and correlate with third-person morphemes, but are used to index addressees. They can thus be understood as a special choice for the construction of others, based on a cognitive displacement from the prototypical second person. Through grammatical means, addressees and audiences are detached from the sphere of the direct participants and approach that of external entities.

The features of functional variation analyzed were object marking with the particle a; object agreement with the verb through clitics; the choice among different clitic forms; the variable formulation of the pronouns usted and ustedes; and their placement within the clause when formulated. In all cases, quantitative analysis—which in several cases results in a certain solution being categorical or nearly categorical—was complemented with the cognitive interpretation of each choice through contextual examination. The materials used were those of the MEDIASA corpus. The main findings are summarized and discussed below.

a) Object marking. In the corpus, all cases of usted and ustedes encoded as accusative or dative objects are headed by the particle a (example 1). This is also what happens with first- and second-person object pronouns in contemporary Spanish. Therefore, as regards this first morphosyntactic feature, usted and ustedes appear to be fully grammaticalized as pronouns, and no functional remnants of their lexical origin can be detected in the texts under analysis.

(1) Miguel Ángel Huerta nos ayuda: a repasar la cartelera de los Cines Van Dyck / todas las semanas / para: ponerles a ustedes al corriente acerca de las novedades  <Var-Co-230503-13:50>

‘M.A.H. will help us go through the movies showing at Van Dyck Cinemas, in order to inform [to] you all+ about the newest releases.’

b) Object agreement through clitics. In principle, all referents encoded as personal pronouns in accusative and dative object contexts require agreement, just as a-marking. This is usually the case with usted and ustedes as well. However, the corpus contains two examples of object encoding where ustedes is not accompanied by the morpheme, thus behaving more like a lexical unit than a personal pronoun, as in (2). The symbol Ø indicates the points where the clitic would have been expected—there are actually two possible slots, due to the fact that the nucleus is a pluriverbal construction.

(2) para ir finalizan:do este apartado que Ø hemos venido ofreciendoØ a ustedes / día tras día: durante la campaña electoral  <Var-Co-230503-13:20>

‘In order to put an end to this section we have been offering to you all+, day after day, during the election campaign.’

c) Clitic choice. Being correlative with third-person paradigms, usted and ustedes can distinguish between dative encoding with le/les and accusative encoding, further differentiated for gender, with lo/los (masc.) and la/las (fem.). However, the use of the dative forms is categorical in the 252 clitic indexations of usted or ustedes across the corpus (see 3 as well as 1 above). As observed with object a-marking and clitic agreement, this suggests that the displaced second persons tend to reproduce the functional patterns of the first and prototypical second persons rather than those of third ones.

(3) ofertas especiales / regalo de bienvenida: / s:orteo de una herramienta / y además / le invitamos a un aperitivo durante todo el día:  <Anu-SE-230903-13:55>

‘Special offers, welcome gifts, a raffle for a mechanical tool, and we will also be [3rd sing dat cl] treating (you+) with appetizers throughout the day.’

d) Variable pronoun formulation. It has been pointed out that usted and ustedes have a remarkable tendency to be formulated, as against first- and second-person pronouns. Here the discussion was restricted to contexts of subject encoding—which are much more numerous—in order not to excessively complicate the analysis. With the exception of singular first-person yo—whose high rates of expression are connected with its pragmaticalization as part of some evidential markers—usted and ustedes turn out to be more inclined to formulation than first- and second-person pronouns, but less so than third-person subjects. The percentage of ustedes for this variant (30.6%) roughly triples those of nosotros and vosotros; the same can be said of singular usted as against . Thus, whereas the functional features reviewed in the preceding sections did not show significant divergences between the displaced second persons and the first and second ones—with only some peculiar examples of object non-agreement—in this case the patterning is more suggestive of the lexical origin of usted and ustedes.

A range of factors seems to be involved in the patterning obtained. Whereas hypotheses based on referential disambiguation are always difficult to substantiate, pragmatic factors related to contextual informativeness often seem to provide reliable explanations of pronoun formulation. The choice shows up in contexts where a contrast or shift between subject referents across consecutive clauses is carried out. While in (4) it could be argued that there is an intention to disambiguate usted from an immediately preceding third-person subject—Hidalgo—in (5) the contrast is established with first-person yo, and the verbal endings are unambiguous. Subject expression is characteristic of argumentative conversational discourse as in this excerpt—the speaker clearly opposes his view of the pre-election climate to that of the addressee.

(4) ¿Se enfadará Hidalgo porque usted busque a otro presidente?  <Ent-Ga-121203-49>

‘Will Hidalgo get angry if you+ find a different president?’

(5) yo: he detectao algo distinto en la ciudad de Salamanca / he detectao dos cosas primero / m: / una buena acogida a nuestra campaña / después no he detectao eso que usted dice  <Var-Co-230503-12:55>

‘I have perceived something different in Salamanca. I’ve perceived two things—first, that our campaign has been well received. And then, I have not perceived those things you+ are alluding to.’

e) Variable pronoun placement within the clause. Rather than pronoun expression, the feature that most clearly separates usted and ustedes from the first and prototypical second persons is their rates of postverbal placement. Postposition accounts for 40.4% of the singular tokens and 58.2% of the plural ones. Ustedes is actually the only first- or second-person pronoun that is more often postposed than preposed to the verb in the corpus, its frequency even surpassing that of third-person animate subjects.

The preverbal placement of subjects—this being their position in the prototypical transitive clause—enhances the salience of their referents in the content, sometimes with evident pragmatic intentions. In (6), the interviewee and the political party he represents are given the credit for the improvement of life in the town.

(6) desde que ustedes gobiernan / efectivamente don Alberto estará de acuerdo conmigo / ha comenzado / a: trascender ese digamos / fenómeno / de sentirse uno orgulloso de ser de Salamanca y de esta ciudaz  <Var-Co-230503-12:35>

‘Since you all+ are in office—and Mr. Alberto will no doubt agree with me—the, say, phenomenon has grown more noticeable of people feeling prouder of being from Salamanca, from this town.’

Significantly, postverbal encoding overwhelmingly prefers the clause-intermediate position, i.e. the VSO pattern. 83.3% of postverbal usted tokens and 84.6% of ustedes ones opt for this solution, as in (7).

(7) ¡oiga por cierto! tiene ustez aquí ¿e:h? / sus dos: / invitaciones / para ver este sábado / a David Broza  <Var-SE-011204-13:20>

‘Hey, listen! Here you+ [postv.] have your two invitations to watch D.B. on Saturday.’

The placement of subject pronouns right after the verb and before the objects reduces the salience and agency of their referents, but at the same time avoids the informativeness of the clause-final position, somehow hiding them in a scarcely prominent position where pronouns resemble subject-agreement morphemes. The cognitive meaning of the choice is thus not far from that of omitted-subject constructions. Pragmatically, this results in the suggestion that the content of discourse is shared knowledge rather than new information provided by the speaker, implying that they should be readily accepted by all participants, as is clear in this excerpt:

(8) la verdaz es que al final / nos podemos acabar haciendo un lío / treMEN:do / porque: no recono- / no dejará de reconocer usted / que es un tema: / con enJUNdia lo de los presupuestos:  <Var-On-281204-13:15>

‘Truly, we can end up by getting it all terribly mixed up. Because you+ [postv.] cannot but recognize that this whole issue of the public budget is quite an intricate one.’

Rather than a strategy of disambiguation—which as pointed out is difficult to objectivize as a determining factor—what this functional patterning suggests is the development of particular strategies for the discursive construction of a special kind of participant, whose cognitive interpretation does not exactly coincide with either that of the prototypical second person or those of third ones. Subject pronouns usted and ustedes appear to replicate the tendency of dative clitics to become specialized for the indexation of addressees and audiences. In other words, the person system of Peninsular Spanish would be undergoing a process of redistribution in order to differentiate a singular and plural paradigm whose units are all borrowed from third-person ones—even the stressed pronouns, which come from NPs—but whose referential uses are mostly coincident with those of second-person ones.

It is concluded that the patterns observed are functional correlates of particular cognitive meanings that could hardly be shaped with either the prototypical second persons or the third ones. Rather than mere ‘formal’, ‘polite’ or ‘respectful’ alternatives to the second persons, as they are still usually characterized, usted and ustedes need to be viewed as inherently meaningful choices that are used to construct addresses and audiences in a different way than is done with and vosotros. The results point to the grammaticalization of a special person paradigm whose synchronic functional variation offers a wide range of possibilities to generate meaning in communicative contexts.

Further research is still needed in order to develop a theoretical model of person, whereby the cognitive foundations of this grammatical dimension can be systematically connected with its patterns of functional variation, as well as with the pragmatic repercussions of person choice in communicative contexts. Persons are ways to cognitively construct entities, with usted and ustedes in the process of developing peculiar functional patterns, including the generalization of third-person dative clitics and the apparent tendency of postverbal subject pronouns to become functionally analogous to verbal endings.

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