Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

A Look-See at the Spanish Verbs of Visual Perception Ver and Mirar

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

A Look-See at the Spanish Verbs of Visual Perception Ver and Mirar

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This paper presents a sociolinguistic study of the Spanish verbs ver and mirar. An analysis of the verbs' lexical aspect based on the properties of stages and telicity shows that ver can be an activity, accomplishment, achievement, or state, whereas mirar can be an activity or accomplishment, but not a state or achievement. A comparison of the use of mirar as a state and achievement for a target group of Mexican-origin individuals in Lansing, Michigan showed that this verb was selected in 48% of the cases studied, compared to categorical use of ver for a control group. An analysis of linguistic and social factors shows that only the social factors socioeconomic status, age, and age of L2 (English) acquisition are significant. The use of mirar by early bilinguals and late learners of English shows that the late learners favor it for achievements and disfavor it for states, and that the early bilinguals have neutral probabilities. It is suggested that the semantic change underlying the nonstandard use of mirar was a shift from accomplishments, to achievements, and then to states.

1. INTRODUCTION. The use of the verb mirar as a variant of ver has been observed in Mexican American communities in the US. Garcia (2005), for instance, points out that mirar denotes ver, percibir, parecer, considerar 'to look, to perceive, to seem like, to consider' in the vernacular of south Texas and the border area, and gives the following examples from compositions written by students in San Antonio, Texas: a) Nunca sabra que mis ninos fueran traviesos hasta que lo mire con mis ojos; b) Quiero saber como se van a mirar y como van a ser sus personalidades.

This paper presents the findings of a sociolinguistic study of the variation of ver and mirar in a Mexican American community in a city in the Midwestern US. The occurrence of mirar in contexts in which ver is categorical in standard Spanish is examined through an analysis of the lexical aspectual properties of the verbs. Although they overlap in some contexts, in others, ver is felicitous, and the use of mirar produces sentences that are ungrammatical in standard Spanish. Some examples of the use of nonstandard mirar discussed in this paper are illustrated in (1) and (2).

(1) Con estos lentes veo / *miro bien.
    With these glasses (I) see / *look well.
   'With these glasses I see ~ can see well.'

(2) Ayer te vi / *mire en la esquina.
    Yesterday you (I) see / look on the corner.
    'Yesterday I saw you on the corner.'

1.1. LINGUISTIC BACKGROUND: LEXICAL ASPECT. The events or sets of events denoted by verbs allow their classification based on the internal properties of those events, or their aspectual characteristics, where aspect refers to the internal development of an eventuality. Rothstein notes that 'lexical aspectual classes are not generalizations over verb meanings, but sets of constraints on how the grammar allows us to individuate events;' moreover, 'lexical classes are not accidental generalizations over lexical meanings, but are independently characterizable templates, or schemas, which constrain lexical meaning' (2004:4-5). Vendler, in his treatise on the 'time schemata presupposed by various verbs' (1967:98), proposes that verbs can be classified into four classes that represent different internal times: states, activities, achievements and accomplishments.

Vendler defines activities as 'processes going on in time ... they consist of successive phases following one another in time' (1967:99). The on-going nature of events that are activities is reflected in their felicitous appearance with progressive tenses: 'Nicolas is walking/running/writing/riding a bike'. Another property of activities is that they do not have a natural or identifiable culmination or set terminal point. Vendler illustrates this with the examples 'run' and 'run a mile'. If one is 'running a mile', but becomes tired and stops after half a mile, it is true that one has 'run', but it is not true that one has 'run a mile' since one would have had to run the entire distance for this to be true. …

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