Guatemalan Spanish feature #2

Guatemalan Spanish is filled with interesting, at least according to me, features. I’ll be trying to cover some features in this blog whenever I’m bored and have nothing else to do. I hope some people will find them interesting.

Feature #2: Indefinite Article + Possessive + Noun

Now, this construction doesn’t seem to be exclusive to Guatemala, but it’s not prevalent anywhere outside of Central America (and maybe Southern Mexico). This construction has caught the eyes of some linguists in the past (Martin 1985).

An example of this construction would be something like:

Mire, no me regala una mi tacita de café?

“Can I maybe have a cup of coffee?”

This is a very old construction that used to be very frequent between the 13th and 15th century (Nieuwenhuijsen 2007), however it has only survived in the Americas. Earlier linguistic work appealed to the ‘convergence’ between Spanish and Maya languages as that could explain how the feature survived in Guatemalan Spanish but not in Standard Spanish. However, studies have shown how it is prevalent regardless of whether speakers are monolingual or bilingual. Linguists have considered how the parallel construction in Mayan languages could have contributed to this construction’s expansion, but it has been considered mainly an aid in persistence of the construction and not direct influence (Elsig 2017).

Another theory presents this as a form of refunctionalization, or exaptation. This means that a grammatical form, on the verge of disappearing, is taken and given a new meaning and assigned a new value and survives this way (Pato 2018).

This construction can represent different semantic aspects (Pato 2018); in the example above it is used as emphatic or a marker to decrease the value of something, in this case the value of a cup of coffee.

However, it can also have a partitive value, expressing how basically the speaker is talking about ‘one of many’:

Fijate que a un mi primo lo asaltaron ayer, vos.

“One of my cousins got mugged yesterday”

This usage would forbid something like e.g. una mi esposa, but allows for both animate and inanimate objects of course.

Additionally, there is a habitual or iterative value possibility:

Él siempre se va a tomar una su cerveza ahí antes de ir a casa

“He always has a beer there before going home”

And finally it can feature a discursive-pragmatic value and mark some form of special value when narrating a story or tale:

Eran muy pobres, tenían una su vaquita que ordeñaban… m… d‘eso vivían, de su lechita

[C. A. Lara Figueroa, Cuentos populares de encantos y sortilegios en Guatemala, 1992, p. 130, in (Palacios Alcaine 2004)]

“They were very poor, they had a cow that they milked… m… they made a living out of that, of its milk”

This is one of the more beautiful features in Guatemalan Spanish for various reasons:

  1. It’s always been present
  2. There’s no stigma attached to it (as opposed to, sadly, a lot of the more distinctive features)
  3. It’s part of every register in the language