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An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Language Sciences

Editor-in-Chief: Gast, Volker

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Volume 43, Issue 1


A Discourse-Based Account of Spanish ser/estar

Claudia Maienborn
Published Online: 2005-07-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.2005.43.1.155


The study offers a discourse-based account of the Spanish copula forms ser and estar, which are generally considered to be lexical exponents of the stage-level/individual-level contrast. It argues against the popular view that the distinction between SLPs and ILPs rests on a fundamental cognitive division of the world that is reflected in the grammar. As it happens, conceptual oppositions like “temporary vs. permanent” or “arbitrary vs. essential” provide only a preference for the interpretation of estar and ser. In addition, the evidence for an SLP/ILP impact on the grammar turns out to be far less conclusive than is currently assumed. The study argues against event-based accounts of the ser/estar contrast in particular, showing that ser and estar pattern alike in failing all of the standard eventuality tests. The discourse-based account proposed instead assumes that ser and estar both display the same lexical semantics (which is identical to the semantics of English be, German sein, etc.); estar diers from ser only in presupposing a relation to a specific discourse situation. By using estar a speaker restricts his or her claim to a specific discourse situation, whereas by using ser, the speaker makes no such restriction. The preference for interpreting estar predications as denoting temporary properties and ser predications as denoting permanent properties follows from economy principles driving the pragmatic legitimation of estar's discourse dependence. The analysis proposed in this article can also account for the observation that ser predications do not give rise to thetic judgments. The proposal is couched in terms of the framework of DRT.

About the article

Correspondence address: Department of German Language and Linguistics, Humboldt University Berlin, Schützenstr. 21, 10117 Berlin, Germany. E-mail: .

Received: 26 March 2003

Revised: 26 August 2003

Published Online: 2005-07-27

Published in Print: 2005-01-01

Citation Information: Linguistics, Volume 43, Issue 1, Pages 155–180, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.2005.43.1.155.

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