Author Topic: Spanish Verb Morphology  (Read 4638 times)

Offline nalyd

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Spanish Verb Morphology
« on: June 29, 2014, 10:37:50 AM »
In Spanish grammar books, the future and conditional conjugation of regular verbs are described as adding a segment onto the end of the infinitive. For example:

Practicar - to practice (infinitive form)
Practicaré - I will practice (1st p. sing. future tense conjugation)

This contrasts to present indicative, imperfect indicative, and preterit where the end of the infinitive is removed and replaced with its respective ending. For example

Practicar becomes Practicamos - to practice (1st p. pl. present indicative)

The root of this verb seems to be practic and the various endings added are o, as, as amos, ía, ías, etc. This means that these endings are morphemes are bound the the stem practic. This then seems that what really is happening in the future and conditional tenses is the infinitive ending is removed, then the following are added to the verb stem (this example is for the future tense):

aré
arás
ará
aremos
aréis
arán

rather than adding the following to whole infinitive:

é
ás
á
emos
éis
án

Adding the previous endings to the infinitive seems to be a pedagogical tool rather than an accurate description of the morphology of Spanish verbs. These are just some thoughts I've had while studying Spanish. I'd like to here everyone's thoughts on this.

Offline kappi

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2014, 10:59:14 AM »
Hi! I'm Italian and I studied, among other things, the general history of romance languages. The simple future tense in Italian, and in Spanish too, came from the vulgar-Latin phrase practicare + habeo, i.e. 'I have to practice'; then, in due time, this phrase phonetically adapted to practicar-ao and finally praticherò in Italian. A similar result is what you have in Spanish, only with Spanish phonetics instead of Italian.
I'd say Spanish grammar books have it right, historically speaking :)

Offline nalyd

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2014, 11:26:26 AM »
That makes sense. If the future ending, é (1st p. sing.) has the meaning of the auxiliary verb, have, then the infinitive ending, ar, must be retained to keep it in the future tense. Have practice wouldn't make sense but have to practice would.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2014, 12:18:33 PM »
This could go either way, both for reasons of "simplicity".

On the one hand, it's simpler to, as the textbooks do, suggest that there are endings on the infinitive-- less to memorize, less to know as a speaker. The conditional and future forms may also seem to be less independent than the other tenses-- for example, consider the lack of irregular forms in the conditional and future!

On the other hand, for consistency, all conjugations could be described as operating from the stem, as you suggested. There isn't really anything wrong with that, but it does create the extra/redundant -ar- twice in the description of the language.

We can look at it three ways:
1. Acquisition: for adult learners, it's probably easier for them to just add things to the infinitive they know well. For children, we could test whether there are psycholinguistic priming effects between the two forms; maybe they also treat it analytically in this way. I don't know.

2. Historically, Kappi is right about that. It really is the infinitive plus haber. So at least at one time, this was motivated. It's no longer semantically transparent, so we can't rely on this as an explanation for how Spanish works now, though (so see (3) below).

A note on the evolution of this: future tenses usually develop from:
a) desire, as in English 'will' originally meaning 'want'
b) motion verbs (go, sometimes come) as in 'going to' in English
c) necessity modals, as in Spanish haber ('have to') > future
[c is slightly less common than a & b]

3. Descriptively/synchronically: either one works. And both are efficient/simple in different ways. I think the lack of irregularity may point to the morphological form being based on the infinitive, though.
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Offline nalyd

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2014, 12:42:27 PM »
To come to think of it, given the three infinitives endings in Spanish, ar, er, and ir, the future and conditional endings that are added to the infinitive are a simpler description. If we had to remove the the infinitive ending and add eré erás, iremos, etc. there would be more future and conditional endings than with the model taught in grammar books. But, however, since the auxiliary forms are no longer used, (ie. to have to practice) to understand the verbs as the infinitive + morphological ending is inaccurate. The ending aremos as in practicaremos seems to mean we will rather than we have to. The haber form may be correct historically, but synchronically the complete ending, aré, arás, etc. is more accurate but may be slightly more complex.

I agree that simply adding to the infinitive is easier for adult learners by having less to remember; it's a pedagogical tool. I suppose the description is really up to one's approach and purpose. Depending on whether one wants to describe it diachronically, synchronically, or pedagogically, they may come up with different descriptions.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2014, 11:44:13 PM »
Quote
synchronically the complete ending, aré, arás, etc. is more accurate but may be slightly more complex.
Why? Both descriptions are equally accurate.

Quote
But, however, since the auxiliary forms are no longer used, (ie. to have to practice) to understand the verbs as the infinitive + morphological ending is inaccurate.
That's the synchronic/diachronic distinction: diachronically there are semantic and morphological reasons for looking at it that way. Synchronically, there are only morphological reasons. It's not inaccurate morphologically. It just isn't the same semantically.

Here's one argument in favor of looking at them as suffixes on the infinitive:
-ar:
hablo
habla
hablas
hablan

-er/-ir:
como/escribo
come/escribe
comes/escribes
comen/escriben

Note: nosotros (and vosotros) forms are exceptions to this, in that they distinguish between -er and -ir forms. (There are also some complications in preterite forms.)

Now, look at the futures:
hablaré (/á/ás/án)
comeré (...)
escribiré (...)


So in fact, I see a possible third argument: the suffixes are ré/rá/rás/rán, without the stem vowel.


The point is that we need to do something that will select the proper stem vowel. One option is to determine which set of suffixes (-aré or -eré or -iré) based on the final vowel (but that seems really weird) or just keep that vowel in place. The -r- may or may not be part of the suffix-- it doesn't matter.

What is crucial is that the stems used to form the future are not the same stems as what is used to form the present.



In the end, it doesn't seem to matter which version we pick. Both explanations are functional, and the difference in complexity isn't obvious.
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Offline Guijarro

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2014, 02:53:57 AM »
It has been pointed at above, but let me repeat it:

We are philosophically sure of what the PRESENT and the PAST look like. But don't know what the FUTURE will be, and so, in English you have a clear modality (it is certain, probable, possible, etc.. that so and so will happen) using a separate modal verb along with the principal one. The history of the English language has kept them separate, and it is easy to realise this modality character of the FUTURE.

In Spanish (and, as it seems, also in Italian), we used the same modality expression:

Amar-he (he de amar)
Comer-he (he de comer)
Ir-he (he de ir)

But the history of the Spanish language erased the silent /h/ and joined what was left of it to the infinite form of the verb (in ALL the persons singular and the first and the third in the plural. The second person plural got a further simplification which is perceivable in some spoken dialects of Spanish), making it appear as any other ending in the present or past. But mark that the other endings don't attach to the infinitive form!

I think the same could be said about the French, as well, and about Portuguese which shows that the perception of the future in our world is always a matter of attitude towards its possibilities.



« Last Edit: July 10, 2014, 09:16:30 AM by Guijarro »

Offline lx

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2014, 10:07:19 AM »
Quote
We are philosophically sure of what the PRESENT and the PAST look like. But don't know what the FUTURE will be, and so, in English you have a clear modality [...]
The history of the English language has kept them separate, and it is easy to realise this modality character of the FUTURE.
I think the same could be said about the French, as well, and about Portuguese which shows that the perception of the future in our world is always a matter of attitude towards its possibilities.
What? You're saying the grammar of temporal (specifically future) labelling channels differing perspectives that speakers hold across languages? English has a system that actively stopped any chance of a possible morphological/suffixal indicator of future tense on a verb, through the perspectives of its speakers towards that temporal domain of future? That's what you're saying? Just want to be clear. I....how do.....huh?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2014, 05:25:40 PM »
I don't think the etymology explains the current usage. Some argue that English "will" is still a modal, but I don't see why Spanish would be considered as such (and I don't agree with that analysis for English anyway).
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Offline Guijarro

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2014, 10:38:38 AM »
It's my turn not to understand your misunderstandings, lx.

Languages arose to point to external objects and to point to mental states.

Things that existed is a clear concept.

Things that exist is also clear, but our reference to them is rather ambiguous (iteratively, actually happening now, eternal, etc.).

Thus, some grammarians speak about PAST and NON-PAST tenses. Period.

Things that don't exist yet have a "reality" problem (what if they never happen?)

Thus we can only point to them by embedding them into our "expectational" mental state, i.e., into an attitudinal stance (I am certain that, I believe that, I think it is posible that, etc.).

That we now talk about the future as a REAL tense is an effect of a misrepresentation which considers future as having the same reality as past and non-past (present, among other possibilities)

The fact that we may trace the future form to a modal construction is, I think, a clear indication of this phenomenon.

It is quite clear in English, for the main verb is accompanied by the most neutral modal verb.

This seems to happen also in some other languages, although another such modal construction is used (in Spanish, it is HAVE TO). The Italian and the French seem to be on this historical line as well. But in our case, the construction became integrated with the main verb.

In Spanish, the stem

Com -

Is attached to the infinitive ending

-er

To the present ending

-o -es -e, -emos -omeis omen

To the two past endings

-ía / -í (and the rest of the persons implicated

But the future tense is constructed with the whole infinitive

comer-

and the simplified form of the verb have

-(h)e -(h)as -(h)a -(h)emos -(h)an

The second person plural has  a further development (no idea why) and instead of

comer-(h)abeis

it becomes

comer-(hab)eis

In quickly spoken Spanish in some regions of the Peninsula, you may hear sometimes

"Creo que eis ido demasiado tarde", instead of "creo que habeis ido demasiado tarde", but as i said, i have no idea whether this might be the historical reason or not.

If Daniel does not believe this, what can I say about his lack of faith?


Offline Daniel

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2014, 06:32:13 PM »
Quote
That we now talk about the future as a REAL tense is an effect of a misrepresentation which considers future as having the same reality as past and non-past (present, among other possibilities)
That's metaphysics, not linguistics. Under that argument, languages should have no words for "unicorn" or "dragon", yet many do, and we can talk about them all we want. It's arguably a usage error any time someone says anything non-hypothetical about those creatures ("I like unicorns" or "dragons are scary" for example), but there's no reason that the language cannot have a device to talk about them. Likewise, there is no reason why languages cannot have a true future tense grammatically. Its use then may be the speaker overreaching in predicting the future, but that doesn't mean anything for the grammatical system of the language. Distinctions in the future in this sense may be some kind of evidentiality. Along these lines some languages (such as in Africa) have multiple (usually 2) future tenses, based on either remoteness (how far in the future) or certainty. But in short, I can't imagine that there is no language with a "true" future tense, and if that's indeed the case, then why shouldn't that language be English or Spanish? Based on usage, I see no reason to rule it out either.

Further, lying is a fairly good test here. If I said "I will eat that!" and then I don't eat it, I lied. If it was merely a prediction, etc., then this shouldn't be a lie, just an error. (Note: I don't mean that this depends on person or circumstance. The future is, at least on average, a lie if it doesn't come true. Think about little kids-- "but you said!")


Also, thanks for the info on Spanish usage. I haven't been exposed to vosotros much, so that's interesting.
« Last Edit: July 12, 2014, 06:43:40 PM by djr33 »
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Offline Guijarro

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #11 on: July 13, 2014, 09:43:54 AM »
So, for you, there isn't (and could not possibly be) any reason whatsoever for the different morphological constructions of the future tense, and the past and non-past?

OK, be my guest!

I agree totally with the rest of what you say, of course, although it has little to do with the ongoing debate. I never denied that the future tense is an existing grammatical category. I only tried to show that in English, Spanish and other languages the different morphological construction may have a philosophical primaeval cause. 


Offline Daniel

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Re: Spanish Verb Morphology
« Reply #12 on: July 14, 2014, 05:25:21 AM »
Quote
So, for you, there isn't (and could not possibly be) any reason whatsoever for the different morphological constructions of the future tense, and the past and non-past?
Right-- there is no inherent reason. There certainly may be reasons, in the same way that there may be reasons for anything (if indeed "reasons" exist in any sense for grammatical structure).

Quote
I never denied that the future tense is an existing grammatical category.
Ok, then we agree.

Quote
I only tried to show that in English, Spanish and other languages the different morphological construction may have a philosophical primaeval cause.
What's a "cause"? Do you mean historically? If that's the case, then I agree. But if you mean that as a synchronic explanation, I'm not convinced (that is, I don't know whether such a claim is correct or incorrect, though I don't believe it to be inherently correct).
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