Can gestures help clarify the meaning of the Spanish marker ‘se’?

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Much has been written about the Spanish marker ‘se’ and its functions, the conclusions suggest that aside from its function as a reflexive pronoun it is a pragmatic marker not following a homogeneous structure (Azpiazu Torres, 2005; Aarón and Torres Cacoullos, 2006; Maldonado, 1999). We propose that additional information on the function of ‘se’ is provided by the hand gestures co-occurring with ‘se’. This paper adds to the existing body of knowledge by taking a multimodal approach to investigate the uses of ‘se’ by two groups of speakers, one Spanish and one Mexican, by adding gestures to the linguistic analysis. Our results confirmed the various functions highlighted by linguistic analysis and point to the importance of including the gesture when interpreting the various meanings of ‘se’. In particular we observed that in verbs like ‘comer’ or ‘tragar’ (to eat, to swallow), ‘se + ingest’ is the preferred form, the gesture marking the subject, not the object. This is significant as studies of ‘se’ indicate that its use is to provide a telic aspect to the action indicating the whole object has been ingested (Sánchez López, 2002), yet the gesture highlights the subject. With intransitive verbs, the gesture stresses or adds information related to the path or manner of the action, suggesting that one of its main function is to energize the action, as suggested by Maldonado (1999). Our results indicated that Mexicans are more likely to use the marker ‘se’ but there were no differences in terms of functionality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • Gesture
  • Se
  • Spanish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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