The variation of first-person singular me/ a mí (me/to me) and the subjectivity in the speech


Variation of the first-person singular object me/ a mí (me/ to me) must be considered inherently meaningful, implying that each form conveys a different meaning that is used to pursue concrete communicative goals in discursive interaction. The first-person singular object may appear expressed (clitic+NP: me +a mí [me+ to me] or omitted [clitic me (me)]). A quantitative analysis indicates, as expected, that the omission of the object (i.e., clitic only) is the most frequent variant. However, even when there is a clitic in the clause, the pronominal object may appear formulated. The explicit formulation of the object a mí (to me) is usually triggered by the convenience of stressing the involvement of its referent in the communicative scene, implying a higher degree of unexpectability and cognitive processing of the referent of the object, as well as providing contrastive or new information regarding the utterance.

The expressed variant is very commonly used with psychological verbal lexemes, such as gustar, olvidar and parecer, implying an emotional link to the content on the part of the speaker. In the following example (1) the expressed object a mí (to me) functions as the experiencer of the action: a mí también me gustan (that are really pleasant to me, too). The personal object a mí (to me) in psychological constructions, such as gustar or dar, display subject-like properties usually referring to experiential activities.

(1) Fue un disco importante para mí\ porque fue un cambio y pude interpretar canciones que a mí también me gustan mucho, baladas, boleros…\ (CCEC

It was an important record to me because it was a change, and I can play songs that I like so much, too [lit. “that are really pleasing to me, too”], ballads, boleros….”

Constructions such as these have been described as dative subject clauses, which are considered as “conscious participants in the event, which are not intended to actively initiate it” (Givon 2001: 128-129). Dative subjects imply that they have the control or choice of a real agent. Moreover, in a construction with a dative subject, the object is a non-prototypical patient of state. Its syntactic behavior—similar to that of the pronominal subject, being generally placed at the beginning of the clause—would explain the tendency of the expressed object a mí (to me) to appear in the preverbal position.

In the following excerpt (2), the speaker is giving a personal opinion about what he considers to be the most important thing about humor matters by focusing on himself: “no es la risa por la risa, por lo menos eso a mí no me interesa”’ [(it is not the laugh by the laugh, at least that is not interesting to me. The informativeness conveyed by the expressed object a mí (to me) makes its pragmatic stressing on the referent similar to that of the first-person singular subject yo.

(2) Pues, te lo agradezco pero sí…\ el humor yo creo que es un medio de transmisión de ideas importantísimo\ no es la risa por la risa\ por lo menos eso a mí no me interesa (CCEC ) <RoyCo 30-8)

“I express my gratitude, yes…. The humor I think is in an ideas-transmission way; it is not the laugh by the laugh—at least that is not interesting to me

Moreover, in constructions with such verbs, the expressed first-person subject and object may co-appear in the preverbal position in the utterance. In (3), both the subject and the object are encoded as the cognitive recipients of the action of olvidarse (“to forget”).

(3) Yo a mí no se me olvida hace unos años cuando un propietario de un Hotel del Sur de Gran Canaria\ me confesaba con gran amargura su fracaso\ (CCEC <Elenv 13-10>)

“I have not forgotten [lit. “it is not forgettable to me”] the time when, some years ago, a South Gran Canaria hotel owner confessed with great grief his failure.”

As it can be inferred from the examples, the expressed object a mí (to me) is typical of discourse stretches characterized by overt argumentation, a pragmatic function that will sometimes make it useful to suggest the speaker’s insertion in a demarcated human group, or else to reinforce ties with the hearer by including both in a common deictic scope. The first-person object variants me/ a mí (me/to me) are indexical of a speech style whereby the focus of the discourse is usually put on the speaker as being responsible for the facts and events described. First-person objects are most frequently omitted when being represented just by the clitic me. In turn, variability in its formulation and placement is less frequent, and its meaning, based mainly on the agentivity and on the focusing on the self-referent, may be considered a fruitful communicative resource among the different socio-professional affiliations of speakers.

Each variant is considered more or less appropriate for performing a certain kind of identity in concrete communicative settings. Public figures turn more assiduously to non-subjectivizing variants, such as the omitted variant, as a strategy for avoiding self-indexation; their communicative style may be considered neutral. On the contrary, public figures and especially politicians tend to emphasize their own responsibility for the content. It can then be concluded that speakers choose different meanings to accomplish different communicative goals and thus contribute to create diverse styles based on the gradual dimension of subjectivity.

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