Arguing Spanish voseo tuteante verb endings: learning, variation and history with OT

  • Miguel Vázquez-Larruscaín


The full historical trajectory of voseo (second plural) forms becoming (deferent) second singular forms — as in Latin vos amātis (2pl) > Medieval Spanish vos amádes (2sg formal) — is a central chapter in the history of Spanish. In many Latin-American Spanish vernaculars, classical voseo fused with the original tuteo, giving rise to a new neutral address paradigm, voseo tuteante (Pre-classical Spanish voseo: vos amádes, amáes, amáis, amás (2sg formal) > Latin-American Spanish voseo tuteante: vos amáis, amás (2sg informal)). After a process of selection from the available options, four sets of endings have survived in those varieties: (áis, éis, ís / ás, és, ís / áis, ís, ís / ás, ís, ís). Why these four? The analysis proposed here builds on global properties of the verb system: (i) the verb suffix -is definitively replaced -des in the second half of the XVII century and the early XVIII century, and (ii) the four sets of endings now extant are exactly the ones that can be learned by Optimality-Theoretic grammar-inductive algorithms. This analysis supports the generative view that only languages with learnable grammars are passed on to future generations. Unlearnable languages are most likely to be lost over time. Similarly, variation is also constrained by the limits set by learnability conditions.