Call for manifestation of interest - Theme session proposal - SLE 2008, Italy

Andrea Sansò asanso at
Sat Dec 15 17:08:07 UTC 2007

Theme Session Proposal – "What do languages code when they code realisness?"
SLE 2008 – Forlì

Call for manifestation of interest

Theme Session Proposal
"What do languages code when they code realisness?"

Dear list members,

this is a call for manifestation of interest in a theme session that
we plan to organize within the next annual meeting of the Societas
Linguistica Europaea (SLE), to be held in Forlì, Italy, September
17-20, 2008 (

The SLE policy for workshops and theme sessions requires us to prepare
a proposal, to be submitted to the SLE program committee no later than
February 15, 2008. This proposal should contain a short description of
the topic to be dealt with, along with an estimate of the schedule and
the overall time required.

The working title of our proposal is: "What do languages code when
they code realisness?". An extended description of the topic is
included at the end of this message. We feel that the theme we are
going to propose might raise the interest of typologists (and
theoretical linguists) who have been (or are) working on the coding of
realisness and related issues. Besides the individual papers, we
intend to devote some time to a general discussion of the theoretical
and empirical issues arising from the presentations.

In detail, the structure of the theme session we intend to submit
should include:

· three invited contributions;
· up to 10/12 selected papers (20 minutes + discussion);
· a final slot (up to 60 minutes) for a general, round-table like discussion.

What we ask you at this stage is to let us know as soon as possible if
you are interested in contributing a paper to the theme session. Feel
free to send a quick informal reply to this mail (just stating your
willingness to submit a paper and specifying a possible topic for your
contribution). Prospective contributors are also expected to send an
abstract no later than February 1, 2008 (Friday). This tight schedule
will leave us enough time to finalize the proposal to be submitted to
the SLE committee.

We should emphasize that there will be two stages: in the first stage,
we will select papers which will be included in the proposal; in the
second stage, the proposal as a whole will be evaluated by the SLE
committee. Only upon acceptance of the entire theme session, every
selected contribution will be considered officially "accepted" at the
SLE conference.


Caterina Mauri (University of Pavia, Italy)
Andrea Sansò (Insubria University – Como, Italy)

Important dates (first stage):

· As soon as possible: informal e-mail with manifestation of interest
· 1st February 2008: abstract submission (see format below)
· 1st March 2008: notification of acceptance

Important dates (second stage; the convenors will be looking after the
finalization of the proposal):

· 15th February 2008: submission of the abstract for the theme session
to the SLE committee
· 15th April 2008: submission of the full program (invited speakers +
accepted abstracts + discussion time) to the SLE committee
· 31st May 2008: notification of acceptance

Format of abstracts:

The selection of abstracts will be made on the basis of quality and
relatedness to the topic and objectives of the theme session. The
submitted abstracts (in PDF) should be anonymous, up to 2 pages long
(including references), and the authors are expected to provide an
overview of the goal, methodology, and data of their research.
Abstracts should be sent to both convenors to the following e-mail

Caterina Mauri: caterina.mauri at
Andrea Sansò: asanso at

All the abstracts will be anonymously reviewed by the program
committee of the theme session (see below) before the finalization of
the proposal. More information about the theme session (list of
selected papers, invited speakers, etc.) will be circulated amongst
the prospective participants right before the submission of the
proposal to the SLE committee.

Please include the following data in the body of the mail: (i)
Author(s); (ii) Title; (iii) Affiliation; (iv) Contacts.

Scientific committee (TBC): Kasper Boye (University of Copenhagen);
Isabelle Bril (LACITO, CNRS, Villejuif); Sonia Cristofaro (University
of Pavia); Ferdinand de Haan (Arizona University) Anna Giacalone
(University of Pavia); Caterina Mauri (University of Pavia); Andrea
Sansò (Insubria University, Como); Johan van der Auwera (University of

Invited speakers: Sonia Cristofaro (University of Pavia); Ferdinand de
Haan (Arizona University); Johan van der Auwera (University of

Publication: if the theme session is accepted it is our intention to
publish a selection of the papers with an international publisher.

Caterina Mauri, Andrea Sansò


Presentation of the theme session

Working title: What do languages code when they code realisness?

Theme description and topics

Since Givón (1984: 285ff.) and Chung and Timberlake (1985: 241ff.),
the terms realis and irrealis have gained increasing currency in
cross-linguistic studies on modality as flexible cover terms for a
number of moods traditionally labelled as 'indicative', 'subjunctive',
'optative', 'counterfactual', 'potential', 'hypothetical', etc. Some
authors (e.g. Elliott 2000: 80) have gone a step further, speaking of
'reality status' (or 'realisness') as a grammatical category to full
right, realized differently in different languages, with at least two
values: realis (or neutral) and irrealis. These two values are
characterized in terms of actualization vs. non-actualization of a
given state of affairs. According to Elliott, a proposition is realis
if it asserts that a state of affairs is an "actualized and certain
fact of reality", whereas it is classified as irrealis if "it implies
that a SoA belongs to the realm of the imagined or hypothetical, and
as such it constitutes a potential or possible event but it is not an
observable fact of reality" (Elliott 2000: 66-67). There are languages
which obligatorily mark realisness in all finite clauses by means of a
comprehensive (morphological or syntactic) system of markers, others
where the system is partial and the realisness of a proposition needs
to be indicated only in specific syntactic contexts, and finally there
are languages in which the marking of realisness is merely optional.
In other terms, realisness may be encoded by means of an array of
morpho-syntactic strategies (simple affixation, portmanteau
affixation, sentence particles, adverbs, etc.).
Both the functional characterization and the formal aspects of
realisness are controversial (Bybee et al 1994; Bybee 1998). On the
one hand, the solidarities between realisness and other functional
domains such as, for instance, tense, aspect, and evidentiality make
it difficult to decide whether (and to what extent) realisness is an
independent functional dimension (see, e.g. Fleischman 1995). On the
other hand, there are certain states of affairs (e.g. habitual,
directive, and future SoAs, etc.) that are coded by means of either
realis or irrealis strategies across languages, in a largely
unpredictable way. This variation may reflect the inherently hybrid
reality status of these states of affairs: they may have occurred but
their reference time is non-specific (e.g. habituals; Givón 1984: 285;
Cristofaro 2004), they may have not yet occurred but they are either
highly probable or expected with a high degree of certainty (e.g.
directives, futures; Roberts 1990; Chafe 1995; Mithun 1995; Ogloblin
2005; Sun 2007), etc.
Some of the factors that appear to have an influence on the
cross-linguistic coding of realisness have been already hinted at in
the typological literature. For instance, in some languages argument
structure and referentiality/definiteness of arguments appear to be
crucial to the choice of a realis or irrealis strategy (the presence
of definite arguments entailing realis marking, whereas
indefinite/non-specific arguments require irrealis marking).
Furthermore, the deictic anchoring of the proposition to the speaker's
here-and-now (in the sense of Fleischman 1989) may determine different
realisness values for directives and futures in some languages (e.g.
predictions, intentions or scheduled events are marked as realis,
whereas other future SoAs are irrealis; second-person directives,
which require the presence of the performer, are coded as realis more
frequently than third-person directives). Yet, a complete picture of
the range of factors affecting realisness is still missing. New
insights into these factors and their interactions may come from a
wider amount of cross-linguistic data, as well as a better
understanding of the diachronic mechanisms leading to the emergence
and establishing of realisness systems.
This theme session aims to assess our current understanding of the
realisness dimension in grammar and to plot the directions for future
research. We invite abstracts for papers dealing with
foundational/theoretical issues and/or taking an empirical,
data-driven stance on the coding of realisness across languages.
At the foundational/theoretical level, possible topics include (but
are not limited to):

· the status of realisness in linguistic theory;
· interactions between realisness and other functional domains (tense,
aspect, evidentiality, etc.);
· cross-linguistic variation in the classification of certain states
of affairs as either realis or irrealis;
· factors affecting the realisness value of a state of affairs:
argument structure; referentiality/definiteness of arguments; degree
of deictic anchoring to the speaker's here-and-now; etc.

At the empirical level, possible topics include (but are not limited to):

· in-depth investigations of realisness systems in single languages or
language families;
· the areal dimension of realisness marking;
· realisness in languages without dedicated realis/irrealis markers;
· realisness as a relevant dimension in interclausal relations:
disjunction (see, e.g., Mauri 2008), complementation (Ammann & van der
Auwera 2004), switch reference, etc.;
· the diachronic origin and the grammaticalization of realis/irrealis
markers as a key to understanding their functional properties and


Ammann, A., and J. van der Auwera. 2004. Complementizer-headed main
clauses for volitional moods in the languages of South-Eastern Europe.
A Balkanism? In: O. Tomić (ed.), Balkan syntax and semantics, 293-314.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Bybee, J. 1998. "Irrealis" as a grammatical category. Anthropological
Linguistics 40 (2): 257-271.
Bybee, J., R. Perkins, and W. Pagliuca. 1994. The evolution of
grammar. Tense, aspect, and modality in the languages of the world.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Bybee, J., and S. Fleischman (eds.). 1995. Modality in grammar and
discourse. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Chafe, W. 1995. The realis-irrealis distinction in Caddo, the Northern
Iroquoian languages, and English. In: Bybee & Fleischman (eds.) 1995,
Chung, S., and A. Timberlake. 1985. Tense, aspect, and mood. In: T.
Shopen (ed.), Language typology and syntactic description, Vol. III:
Grammatical categories and the lexicon, 202-258. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Cristofaro, S. 2004. Past habituals and irrealis. In: Y. A. Lander, V.
A. Plungian, A. Yu. Urmanchieva (eds.), Irrealis and Irreality,
256-272. Moscow: Gnosis.
Elliott, J. R. 2000. Realis and irrealis: Forms and concepts of the
grammaticalisation of reality. Linguistic Typology 4: 55-90.
Fleischman, S. 1989. Temporal distance: a basic linguistic metaphor.
Studies in Language 13 (1): 1-50.
Fleischman, S. 1995. Imperfective and irrealis. In: Bybee & Fleischman
(eds.) 1995, 519-551.
Givón, T. 1984. Syntax. A functional-typological introduction. Vol. 1.
Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Mauri, C. 2008. The irreality of alternatives. Towards a typology of
disjunction. Studies in Language 32 (1): 22-55.
Mithun, M. 1995. On the relativity of irreality. In: Bybee &
Fleischman (eds.) 1995, 367-388.
Ogloblin, A. K. 2005. Javanese. In: A. Adelaar, and N. P. Himmelmann
(eds.), The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar, 590-624.
London-New York: Routledge.
Roberts, J. R. 1990. Modality in Amele and other Papuan languages.
Journal of Linguistics 26: 363-401.
Sun, J. T.-S. 2007. The irrealis category in rGyalrong. Language and
Linguistics 8 (3): 797-819.

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