The Expressive Function of the ni que Insubordinate Construction in Spanish
1.a. ¡Una carta cada día! Ni que yo fuese Umbral.‘A letter everyday! As if I were Umbral’.(CORPES 100. ¿La pareja? Bien, gracias”, El Club de la Comedia)1
The highlighted clauses in (1) exhibit certain characteristics associated with a subordinate clause, the use of the sequence ni que containing the subordinating conjunction que and the subjunctive verbal form tuvieras; yet, they are used independently, that is, without the accompanying main clause. Thus (1a), for instance, is different from its subordinate counterpart, presented in (2):b. Dámela, hombre. Ni que me tuvieras miedo.‘Give it to me, for goodness sake. As if you were afraid of me’.(CdE 86. Gran Señor y Rajadiablos, Eduardo Barrios)
2. No escribiría una carta cada día ni que yo fuese Umbral.‘I would not write a letter every day even if I were Umbral’.
4. A: ¿Qué dijo?B: Que te calles.‘A: What did she say? B: That you should shut up’.5. (Two people are having a strong argument and one says)¡Que te calles!‘(I insist that you) shut up!’ (Literally: ‘That you shut up!’)
6. Me dijo: “que te calles”.‘She told me: “shut up”’
2.1. Meanings and Functions of Insubordinate Constructions
2.2. Insubordination and the Expression of Emotion
However, it is important to note here that, even if the syntactic level is the one taking the lead in this particular linguistic manifestation of emotion, the pragmatic level intertwines with it as well as with all the other levels.47. ¡Y ustedes, cuidadito con ir con cuentos a los Montero, ni a esas barrigas resfriadas de las Bringas!—nos previno madre a Laura y a mí.—Ni que fuéramos unas chusmas.‘And you; be careful with going to the Monteros or to the blabbermouthy Bringas, with invented stories. As if we were gossipy women!’(CdE 126. Novios de Antaño, María Elena Walsh)
This definition considers the different parameters and variables that point towards the presence of emotion in discourse, such as the linguistic level at which it is manifested (by means of, for instance, lexicon, morphemes, constructions or inferences), or the mode of the emotion (e.g., linguistic, paralinguistic or by means of emoticons in the case of computer-mediated discourse). For a more extensive description of these variables, see Alba-Juez (2016, 2018).[…] we view emotion as a (dynamical) system of language which interacts with the system of evaluation but whose main function is the expression of the speaker’s feelings, mood or affective experience. It is a multimodal discourse process,5 which permeates all linguistic levels but also manifests itself in non-verbal ways,6 presenting different stages and forms (influenced by variables such as pragmatic expectations or common-ground knowledge) according as the discursive situation and interaction changes and evolves.
3. Research Goals and Methodology
3.1. Research Questions and Hypothesis
- Is the sequence ni que (when introducing an insubordinate construction) used as a discourse marker fulfilling an emotive/expressive function in Spanish?
- Are the insubordinate ni que clauses in Spanish different from their subordinate equivalents as far as their emotive content is concerned?
- Are there any other important domains (textual, interpersonal or modal) and functions that the ni que construction forms part of and fulfills?
8. a. Subordinate ni que clause:No me aprovecharía de ti ni que me tuvieras miedo.Apodosis Protasis‘I would never take advantage of you; not even if you were afraid of me,’b. Insubordinate construction (Protasis without apodosis):Acércate. Dame la mano. Dámela, hombre. ¡Ni que me tuvieras miedo!‘Come near. Give me your hand. Give it to me, for goodness sake. As if you were afraid of me!’(CdE 86. Gran Señor y Rajadiablos, Eduardo Barrios)
Here, both the dependent clause in No vendería la novilla ni aunque me la pesaran en oro and the semi-autonomous insubordinate counterpart found in the example would be equivalent, and for this reason, the apodosis can be recovered without altering the expressive meaning of B’s statement. However, if we tried to make this replacement in insubordinate constructions such as the one in (8b), the meaning would change considerably, because, in fact, ¡Ni aunque me tuvieras miedo! could not be considered as an appropriate equivalent option in that particular context. This suggests that the concessive meaning attached to the subordinate construction is somehow lost or not found in the insubordinate one, whose meaning has more to do with pragmatic phenomena such as the triggering of counterfactive presuppositions, the organization of discourse, the emotive domain and the realization of expressive speech acts, as we shall further illustrate and discuss in Section 4.2, Section 4.3 and Section 4.4.9. A: Pues mire usted que me he hecho viejo en el oficio… y, por último, de usted es la novilla y mío el dinero; la feria es tanto para pedir como para ofrecer, sin ofensa de nadie ni menosprecio de la cosa. Otro dará más.‘You should know that I have become old and experienced in the trade… and lastly, the heifer is yours and mine is the money; the fair is both for asking and bidding, without offending anybody or underestimating the matter. Some other person will give you more’.B: ¡Ni aunque me la pesaran en oro!‘Not even if they weighed it in gold!’A: Y hará usted bien, si en tanto la estima‘And you will thus do well if you so much appreciate it’(CdE 25. Don Gonzalo González de la Gonzalera, José María de Pereda)
- The Davies’ Corpus del Español (CdE), where we examined 1067 concordances in both Peninsular and American varieties of Spanish and found 128 insubordinate constructions (representing 12% of the scrutinized ni que concordances in it);
- The CORPES XXI, where we examined 1001 concordances in Peninsular Spanish and found 104 insubordinate constructions (representing then 10.39% of the ni que concordances).
4. Analysis and Discussion
As stated above, this construction operates on different linguistic and discourse–pragmatic levels, some aspects of which we shall discuss in the next subsections (Section 4.1, Section 4.2, Section 4.3 and Section 4.4). One interesting pragmatic aspect found is the fact that the ni que insubordinate clauses normally trigger a counterfactive presupposition, which works as the linguistic support for its interpretation as emotionally loaded markers. We turn to this in Section 4.2, but first, in Section 4.1, some structural features of the construction in Spanish are presented.10. Oiga, ¿qué le pasa? Ni que le hubiera contado una historia de fantasmas... ¿no es Ud. periodista? Seguro que ha oído casos más raros que éste o ¿está creyendo que estoy loca?‘Listen, what’s the matter with you? As if I had told you a ghost story… Aren’t you a journalist? Surely you’ve heard of stranger cases than this one, or do you believe I’m crazy?’(CdE 146. Desenlaces, Lucía Melgar)
4.1. Defining the ni que Insubordinate Construction in Spanish from a Formal Perspective
Using the term ‘semi-autonomous’ subordinate (or insubordinate) construction from Beijering et al. (2019b), the construction in (11) can be characterized as a ‘semi-autonomous coordinate’ construction. A paraphrase of (11), for example, is Ni quiero que nos tuteemos ‘Nor do I want that we address each other using the familiar’.7 By contrast to this construction, the word ni in the insubordinate is not a coordinator but a scalar adverbial particle or negative operator (cf., e.g., (Gras 2007, p. 312; Yates 2006)). This will be further explained below.11. Cállese. Yo no quiero ser amigo suyo. Ni que nos tuteemos.‘Shut up. I don’t want to be a friend of yours. Nor that we address each other using the familiar’.(CORPES 38. La aventura del tocador de señoras, Eduardo Mendoza)
The italicized construction in (12) is a ‘semi-autonomous subordinate’ clause with a concessive-conditional meaning, in which the sequence ni que can be paraphrased by ni aunque (cf. (No le dé dulces), ni aunque llore), as noted above and in Gras (2007). A common feature of the ni que semi-autonomous subordinate and the ni que insubordinate construction is the presence, in both cases, of the ni as a scalar negative operator.12. No le dé dulces, Bendición. Ni que llore.‘Don’t give her sweets, Bendición. Even if she cries’.(CORPES 506. Princesas, Fernando León de Aranoa)
13a. Porque no puedo olvidar, porque no puedo ignorar, que al fin he conseguido arruinarme. Ni que hace más de dos años que perdí a mi mujer.‘Because I cannot forget, because I cannot ignore, that finally I ended up bankrupt. Nor that it has been more than two years since I lost my wife’.(CORPES 227. Grillo, José Machado)
Whereas the indicative in (13a) indicates a factual state of affairs (‘it has indeed been more than two years that I lost my wife’), the subjunctive in (13b) expresses non-factuality, the implication being that the speaker’s wife passed away less than two years before the moment of speaking, that is, it is not the case that she died more than two years since then.13b. ¡Ni que hiciera más de dos años que perdí a mi mujer!‘As if it had been more than two years since I lost my wife!’
As can be seen in (14), the fixed expression ni que lo digas is used in Spanish for expressing strong agreement. This is a semi-autonomous subordinate clause that can be paraphrased in Spanish as es tan evidente que no hace falta ni que lo digas (‘it is so obvious that you need not even say it’), stressing the self-evident or non-dubious character of the previously mentioned statement.14. -Está buena, la Elisa esa…-dice Gabriel.‘-She’s hot, that chick Elisa…-says Gabriel’.-Ni que lo digas -dice Toni.‘-Oh yes/Absolutely -says Toni’.(CORPES 967. El hijo del futbolista, Coradino Vega)
Whereas the insubordinates in (15) and (16) can become subordinates attached to a main clause, retaining their meaning, the emotive/expressive meaning of the ni que insubordinate in (17) is lost when attaching it to the retrieved apodosis from the preceding context (see (1–2) above). Therefore, the meaning of the ni que insubordinate changes substantially when converted into a subordinate, whose meaning as said above is concessive-conditional. We argue that this different behavior of the ni que insubordinate is a reflection of the conventionalization of this construction in Spanish. Thus, the development of specific discourse functions and, in particular, the systematic association of the emotive/expressive meaning with the ni que insubordinate clause over time, by contrast to other similar constructions, suggest the conventionalization analysis. Furthermore, from the impossibility of retrieving the apodosis in this case, it follows that the ni que insubordinate construction does not have a dyadically dependent equivalent, as mentioned by Sansiñena et al. (2015), in contrast with other insubordinates such as for que te calles (cf. [(4) above).15. ¡Que te calles! --> He dicho que te calles. ‘I have said that you should shut up’.16. ¡Si tan solo pudiera verte! --> Si tan solo pudiera verte, me quedaría más tranquila. ‘If only I could see you, I would be less anxious’.17. ¡Ni que yo fuese Umbral! --> #No te escribiría una carta todos los días, ni que yo fuese Umbral. ‘I would not write to you a letter everyday, even if I were Umbral’
4.2. Ni que Insubordinate Clauses as Triggers for Counterfactive Presuppositions
In this particular example, the triggered counterfactive presupposition would be “(Sé que) no me tienes miedo” ((I know that) you’re not afraid of me), and it involves the negative emotion of fear in an inscribed manner (in the sense given to the term by Martin and White 2005),10 but at the same time, the speaker wants to come across as precisely the opposite, as someone whom the interlocutor should trust and not fear, thereby invoking a more reassuring and positive emotion.18. Acércate. Dame la mano. Dámela, hombre. ¡Ni que me tuvieras miedo!‘Come near me. Give me your hand. Give it to me, for goodness sake. As if you were afraid of me!’(CdE 86. Gran Señor y Rajadiablos, Eduardo Barrios)
The counterfactive presupposition triggered by the ni que clause in (19) is that the addressee is not going to a wedding ceremony, and from there, the negative attitude of the speaker, who does not want to buy her son a long-sleeved shirt, thereby implying that her son’s idea is out of the question and inappropriate.19. Ni hablar. Una camisa de manga larga ¿para qué? Ni que fueras de boda, hijo mío. Esta camisa luego no te la vuelves a poner en la vida.‘Absolutely not. A long-sleeved shirt? What for? As if you were going to a wedding ceremony, my son. This shirt then you’ll never wear again in your life’.(CORPES 182. Los aires difíciles, Almudena Grandes)
4.3. Ni que as a Discourse Marker Affecting Textual–Organizational Domains
20. —Quédate a vivir conmigo—[…]‘Stay in my house and live with me’—¡Ni que estuviera loca! –dijo ella y se dio la media vuelta.‘As if I were mad! –she said, and she turned around (and left)’.(CdE 151. El Rompecabezas, Ricardo Martínez Cantú)
The insubordinate construction in (20) is used organizationally as a topic closure mechanism, which, at the same time, shows the contempt and annoyance of the speaker towards the suggestion that s/he might speak in a certain manner. In the case of (21), the organizational function has to do with the continuity of the topic, including an additional argument to the previous ones exposed, all of which fulfil the coalescing function of expressing certain surprise and contempt as a retort for some foolish idea previously expressed by the interlocutor.21. —¡Vaya tontería! ¿Quién iba a descubrirlo? Además, ni que hubiera algo malo en ello.‘How foolish! Who would discover it? Besides, as if there were something wrong in it’.(CORPES 229. Sabatina, José Luis Borau)
4.4. Ni que as a Marker of Expressive Illocutionary Acts
We can place this instance of insubordinate ni que construction within the emotive domain, as the speaker is expressing her disdain and anger for what she judges as an inappropriate attitude on behalf of the woman she is criticizing, which, at the microlevel of the illocution, translates into an expressive and emphatic act of complaint.22. No fue capaz de ayudar con los bolsos. ¡Ni que fuera una dama inglesa!‘She wasn’t even capable of helping with the bags. As if she were an English Lady!’(CdE 93. Tántalo en el Trópico, Nila López)
23.—¿Y no pudiste, dímelo con franqueza, reconocer a tu agresor?‘And couldn’t you, tell me in all frankness, recognize your aggressor?’- Imposible. Ni que yo tuviera como los gatos el privilegio de ver en la oscuridad.‘Impossible. As if I had, like cats, the privilege of seeing in darkness’.(CdE 241. El Sochantre de mi Pueblo, Ginés Alberola)
As noted above, the ni que insubordinate constructions normally present a counterargument, criticism or lack of agreement with the interlocutor or some third party. Therefore, it is not uncommon for speakers to resort to humor as a pragmatic resource, which acts as a catalyst for the negative feelings, balancing them with positive emotion and the ability to elicit laughter in the hearer. The humor used normally contains hyperbolic, absurd or impossible scenarios that contrast with the real situation being discussed, as shown in (23), by triggering the counterfactive presupposition that “(It is obvious that) I don’t have the ability, like cats, of seeing in darkness” or in (24), similarly implying that “they are not Mandrake the Magician or Superman”.24. ¿De dónde vamos a sacar la plata para eso? […] Tengo que ser sincero que desde el principio no vamos a poder hacer todas las obras (…) Ni que fuéramos Mandrake el Mago combinado con Supermán.‘Where are we going to take the money for that from? […] I have to be sincere with you that at the beginning we won’t be able to do all the works (…) As if we were Mandrake the Magician combined with Superman’.(CdE 176. Prensa libre, CR:PrLibre:98May16)
- Pragmatic meanings. Counterfactive presupposition: (Sabemos que) No somos ni Mandrake el Mago ni Supermán ‘(We know that) We are neither Mandrake the Magician nor Superman’.
- Discourse–emphatic/humorous–emotive domain: Presenting a humorous (unreal or ridiculous) hypothetical situation. The humor also fulfills an emphatic but, at the same time, mitigating macrofunction. The speaker here wants to save face (Brown and Levinson 1987) by minimizing the possible aggressiveness of the counterargument or criticism implied, thereby appealing to the interlocutors’ positive face and emotions.
- Microfunction (speech act level): Self-justifying, expressive illocutionary act, also showing the speaker’s reprobation of the previous (apparently absurd or unreal) assumption on the part of the interlocutor that they will have the money to do all the works now.
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At the end of the examples, the source is indicated in brackets with the following information: name of the corpus, number of the example in our dataset, name of the text and author. (See Section 3.2 for further information on the corpora.) The sequence ni que is marked in bold in all examples.
Iwasaki (2000, p. 237) reports that in Japanese of the Heian period (circa ninth through twelfth centuries), verbs and auxiliaries in declarative sentences were inflected either as finite forms with -keri or as attributive forms with -keru. These were used both in relative and main clauses, the latter use performing three distinct functions: (i) background information, (ii) exclamation, and (iii) weak conjecture.
However, this idea had started developing at the end of the 20th century, within the development of the framework of cognitive linguistics, for instance.
Gras (2007, pp. 311–12) also sees this overlap of levels for the ni que construction when he states that the presence of ni que is a syntactic phenomenon because it determines the grammatical relation between the main proposition and the subordinate one, but it is also necessary to resort to pragmatic information to account for the functioning of the connective sequence ni que composed by the negative scalar operator ni and the conjunction que.
Multimodality is taken into account in this study to the extent that the information and extended contexts provided for the examples in the corpora used allow us to, but in general, we will be working with written language and written representations of spoken language.
We refer here to non-verbal manifestations of emotion such as bodily movements or face gestures, which for this study, we have taken into consideration inasmuch as the information in the corpus has allowed us to.
Of course, these constructions may occur as ‘normal’ coordinated clauses within a compound sentence, rather than independently: No quiero ser amigo suyo ni que nos tuteemos.
Counterfactive presuppositions are normally associated with counterfactive verbs such as wish or pretend in English (e.g., in I wish I were there, the presupposition triggered is that I am not there), which make the hearer infer that the action or situation expressed is not true or did not happen at all. In the case of the insubordinate construction being discussed here, it is not a verb but the ni que sequence that acts as the counterfactive element, given the negative scalar value assigned to it (see Section 4.1 above).
Martin and White define inscribed evaluation (including Affect as one of its subsystems) as an evaluation that is directly expressed through language, not implied. A simple example would be “She was angry”.
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Martínez Caro, E.; Alba-Juez, L. The Expressive Function of the ni que Insubordinate Construction in Spanish. Languages 2021, 6, 161. https://doi.org/10.3390/languages6040161
Martínez Caro E, Alba-Juez L. The Expressive Function of the ni que Insubordinate Construction in Spanish. Languages. 2021; 6(4):161. https://doi.org/10.3390/languages6040161Chicago/Turabian Style
Martínez Caro, Elena, and Laura Alba-Juez. 2021. "The Expressive Function of the ni que Insubordinate Construction in Spanish" Languages 6, no. 4: 161. https://doi.org/10.3390/languages6040161