Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Yo estoy" or "Estoy yo": word order, subject pronouns, and the sticky question of whether all text books take the wrong approach?

In my lovely grammar-book-in-progress, I make a point to put the subject pronouns after the verbs in all verb charts: hablo (yo) / hablas (tú) / habla (él), etc.

I do this for several reasons:

  • To break the speaker's habit (from English) of looking for subject pronouns before the verb

  • Because it is perfectly common in Spanish, as evidenced by the y-terminal "yo" forms (doy/estoy/voy/soy) which originated from "do yo / esto yo / vo yo / so yo/ etc.

  • To help avoid confusion when enclitic object pronouns are introduced, since "me quieres tú" is easier to parse if you're used to "quieres (tú)" than if you're used to "(tú) quieres"

  • Presenting "estoy yo" suggests, unconsciously, that the verb form ("estoy") determines the pronoun ("yo"), rather than that the pronoun comes first and the verb form second. I think this subtly helps prepare students for the fact that Spanish usually omits the subject pronouns, meaning that the verb form is the only source of subject information.

I consider these reasons sound. The only reason I can see for doing it the other way ("yo hablo / tú hablas / etc.") is that it will allow transfer from English. However, I see this as an anti-reason, and I wonder if teaching that focuses on drilling "yo amo / tú amas / etc" encourages other, incorrect transfer, such as "*ella hablas español" (there, the student has transfered both word order and the conjugation from English).

Given this, I'm sad to say I've never seen a Spanish text book that presented the subject pronouns as I do. Has anyone else? If not, are there reasons I'm not thinking of why teaching beginners to say "tú quieres" is a good idea?


Ellen K. said...

What are enclitic pronouns? I'm not familiar with that term, and the dictionaries I'm looking at are giving me differing definitions.

Tom Hinkle said...

Enclitic and clitic are both terms that are used by linguists to refer to particles that have semi-word status. I use "enclitic" rather than "clitic" because it sounds less like a word that makes teenagers giggle.

In Spanish, "me/te/le" etc. are enclitic pronouns. The reasons they're not full are that, among other things, they can't be stressed independently (no native speaker would ever say MEEEE gusta, for example, which is why the language needs the duplicative "me gusta a MIIIIII" structure).

They're not really pronouns because they can't replace a noun in a sentence (which is what pronouns do). For example, "him" can replace "John" anywhere in a sentences ("I liked him", "I gave it to him", "I did it for him", etc.), but in Spanish "lo" cannot ("Quiero a Juan" becomes "Lo quiero" and not "Quiero a lo").

I actually just referred to the relevant wikipedia entry and I see that according to it "enclitic" is used for clitics that follow the words they attach to and "proclitic" is used for words that proceed the words they attach to. In that case, "me/le/te" etc. are both enclitics (in the case of "voy a llamarte" and proclitics ("te voy a llamar").