Spanish Clitic Climbing

Open Access
Gonzalez Lopez, Veronica
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 20, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Almeida Jacqueline Toribio, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Barbara E Bullock, Committee Member
  • John Lipski, Committee Member
  • Marie Gillette Speicher, Committee Member
  • Karlos Arregi, Committee Member
  • clitic pronouns
  • clitics
  • clitic climbing
  • syntactic theory
  • Spanish syntax
This dissertation focuses on the study of direct object clitics and clitic climbing structures in Spanish. Clitic pronouns in the Romance languages have long occupied the interests of generative linguists. In the field of morpho-syntax there exists a rich body of literature on the nature and distribution of object clitic pronouns in Romance, addressing a diversity of questions, among these, whether clitic pronouns behave as independent words or bound morphemes, and how and where they are to be represented in the grammatical structure of a sentence. The answers to such questions have had implications for the advancement of theories and models in other fields of study, such as language contact and language acquisition. To date, French and Italian have been the primary focus of attention in research addressing clitic pronouns; the facts of Spanish have gone largely unexamined. Redressing this oversight, the present project examines data on the placement of pronouns across dialects of Spanish. The findings will afford a more complete account of clitic pronouns in Romance than is available in the extant literature and contribute to theories of syntactic micro-variation. Unlike other Romance languages, Spanish allows clitic pronouns to appear attached to the non-finite verb, as in (1a) and (2a), or attached to the main conjugated verb, as in (1b) and (2b), a phenomenon known as “clitic climbing”: <p>(1) a. Estoy comiéndolo.</p> <p>am.1sg eating.Cl</p> <p>b. Lo estoy comiendo.</p> <p>Cl am.1sg eating</p> <p>“I am eating it”</p> <p>(2) a. Quiero comerlo.</p> <p> want</p> <p>b. Lo quiero comer.</p> <p>Cl want</p> <p>“I want to eat it”</p> The facts of clitic placement across dialects of Spanish (Castilian Spanish and North Western Spanish) and in other Romance languages (Italian, Portuguese, and Asturian) are carefully examined, with the aim of presenting an account of clitic climbing that is empirically and explanatorily sound. At the center of the present study is the development of a proposal in which clitic pronouns may be generated in two structural positions in the clause, as dictated by the selectional properties of particular predicates. The intellectual merit of this proposal resides principally in understanding the mechanisms that govern the placement of clitic pronouns in clitic climbing structures. It is novel in focusing specifically on the analysis of clitic pronouns in Spanish and in seeking to achieve an adequate and complete description of these elements both morphologically and syntactically. A broader contribution of the work is its focus on reaching a better understanding not only of Spanish clitic pronouns, but also of Spanish syntactic structure in general, as the study of clitic placement largely overlaps with other areas of syntactic research, such as verb movement.