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Gender loss in accusative clitics in Basque Spanish

A contact-induced convergence phenomenon

From the book Convergence and divergence in Ibero-Romance across contact situations and beyond

  • Bruno Camus Bergareche and Sara Gómez Seibane


This paper describes the use of feminine leísmo for the variety of Spanish spoken in the Basque Country, i.e., the use of the unstressed dative pronoun le to refer to feminine direct objects. After reviewing its presence in historical texts, as well as its synchronic geographical and social distribution, we link leísmo in Basque Spanish with some grammatical characteristics of the other language spoken in this area, namely Basque. Taking this contact situation as our starting point, we put forward different arguments to corroborate our theory, including the existence of similar phenomena in other Spanish varieties in contact with languages whose pronominal systems are partly akin to those of the Basque language. Lastly, we will explain the phenomenon of feminine leísmo in Basque Spanish by assuming the models of contact-induced change and convergence developed by Palacios (2005) for cases in which gender has been eliminated in clitics in Latin American Spanish. In this way, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of littleknown processes of grammatical convergence in Spanish in situations of contact with other languages.

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