19. Spanish grammar: Leísmo, Loísmo and Laísmo

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Leísmo ("using le") is a dialectal variation in the Spanish language that occurs largely in Spain. It involves using the indirect object pronoun le in place of the (standard) masculine direct object pronoun lo, especially when the direct object refers to a male person.

Leísmo with animate objects is both common and prescriptively accepted in many dialects spoken in Spain, but uncommon in most others. Leísmo is always rejected in Linguistic prescription when the direct object to which it refers is not an animate object.

Examples:

  • Veo al chico ("I see the boy") → Lo veo (standard Spanish, with lo)
  • Veo al chico ("I see the boy") → Le veo (leísmo, common in Spain; other regions prefer lo veo)
  • Veo el árbol ("I see the tree") → Le veo (not accepted in Linguistic prescription — the tree is not a person)

The use of le in dialects where leísmo is common typically correlates with the use of the preposition a for animate direct objects. That is, if a dialect features leísmo, le replaces masculine direct objects that would have been preceded by a if expressed in full.
 

Loísmo, with its feminine counterpart laísmo, is a feature of certain dialects of Spanish consisting of the use of the pronouns lo or la (which are normally used for direct objects) in place of the pronoun le (which is used for indirect objects). Loísmo and laísmo are almost entirely restricted to some dialects in central Spain; they're virtually absent from formal and written Spanish.

A simple example of loísmo and laísmo would be saying "lo hablé" (lit. "I spoke him") or "la hablé" (lit. "I spoke her") where a speaker of a dialect without loísmo would say "le hablé" (lit. "I spoke to him/her").

This effectively means the loss of a declensional case marker. The difference between lo (accusative case) and le (dative case) are holdovers from Latin declension. The general trend in the evolution of Spanish has been to drop such declensions, but most dialects of Spanish have preserved this feature for object pronouns. It just happens that speakers with loísmo have further lost this distinction.

Another effect of loísmo and laísmo is that the gender of the indirect object is clearer than it would be using le. One issue with non-loísmo dialects is that the le pronoun is ambiguous, as it does not specify gender. For example, le doy un beso can mean "I give him a kiss", "I give her a kiss", or even "I give you (formal) a kiss". One way around this ambiguity is to clarify the pronoun with a prepositional phrase; for our example, this would mean "le doy un beso a él", "le doy un beso a ella", or "le doy un beso a usted", respectively. Since lo indicates masculine and la indicates feminine, using loísmo and laísmo means that this clarification is not necessary.

Loísmo can also seemingly change the meaning of certain phrases, since some verbs take on a different meaning based on the case of their objects. For example, "le pegué" means "I struck him", but a speaker with loísmo would say "lo pegué", which literally means "I stuck him" in dialects without loísmo.

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