A phenomenon that is encountered fairly frequently in Spanish but has received relatively little attention on the part of linguists is the use of the singular indirect object pronoun le when the plural les would be expected, as illustrated in the following examples:
Hay que darle un justo precio a las personas. (BOG-8:107)
Mi papá le tenía terror a las balas perdidas. (CAR-34:615)
Nosotros le calentamos a los niños la comida. (HAV-2:30)
Se le ponía bola negra a las que se lo merecían. (MAD-16:266)
Es poco el tiempo que puedo dedicarle a mis hijos. (MEX-13:168)
To my knowledge, only Kany (1951:107–109) has attempted to deal with this topic in a comprehensive, global manner, and his presentation is limited to one brief paragraph of commentary illustrated by examples taken primarily from works written in the 1920s and 1930s. The present paper will present a general study of this construction focusing primarily on a description of its contemporary usage as reflected in the spoken Spanish of educated speakers from eleven cities, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Havana, La Paz, Lima, Madrid, Mexico City, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Santiago (Chile) and Seville.