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Se azotaron a los delincuentes: A Case Study in Arbitrary Exclusion

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This paper looks at the stigmatized use of impersonal se with a plural verb and the prepositional accusative. While this pattern occurs commonly in speech and many forms of writing, it has to all intents been airbrushed from academic consideration of Spanish. On the one hand, the normative authorities dismiss it as an error and on the other it is studiously ignored by professional linguists. Given the pattern's de facto productivity, it is argued in this paper that its exclusion from the standard corpus is essentially arbitrary, the result of a priori assumptions about what should be possible in grammar rather than detached scientific consideration of what actually occurs. More specifically, both prescriptive grammar and theoretical linguistics take it as axiomatic that (in languages like Spanish) number agreement on the finite verb is determined by the subject and never by the object. The pattern discussed here is irreconcilable with that view and, accordingly, has come to be treated as a non-legitimate datum. The case thus provides a good illustration of how the concept of grammaticality, supposedly the empirical foundation of modern syntax, may be no less arbitrary than the older normative principle of correct usage.
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Keywords: Bello; Spanish; accusative; agreement; grammaticality; impersonal; nominative; normative; reflexive; se

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Newcastle University,

Publication date: September 1, 2013

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