En réponse à Doug Dee :
>where Larry Trask makes a tentative suggestion.
Larry Trask's description of the phenomenon as "dative of interest" is
probably the best one you can get in English. Indeed, when I say something
Je te lui ai flanqué une sacrée raclée.
I make the sentence interesting for the listener by adding him/her into it,
when considerations of syntax and meaning say s/he has no business being in
there ;))) . The idea is that a simple recount of events where the listener
was absent is not especially interesting for him/her, so to make it more
interesting, more lively for the listener, just add him/her to the
sentence. You make this way the listener metaphorically part of what you're
recounting, and it becomes thus more interesting for that person to listen
In the same way, in the Spanish example:
Él no me le comió la comida.
The addition of the first person pronoun when it's not supposed to be there
(for both syntax and meaning) indicates that the speaker was somehow
interested in the event, although s/he had no part in the action itself. In
this case, tone of voice probably indicates also that the speaker would
have wanted the action to be otherwise than it has been. But the main
meaning is here again indicating an interest.
The closest I can find in English of this phenomenon is the expression "on
me" in "don't die on me" that I've heard a few times. It it as close to the
ethical dative of Spanish as you can find. Of course, it doesn't help
explaining the French and Basque ethical dative, but I hope my explanation
above has helped people understand something which seems very foreign to
You need a straight mind to invent a twisted conlang.