the term conative

Johanna Laakso johanna.laakso at UNIVIE.AC.AT
Tue Nov 27 05:46:43 UTC 2012

Dear Colleagues,

the term "conative" does appear in the Finnish research tradition, although not very frequently. Deverbal frequentative verb derivatives ('to X' > 'to X often, frequently, many times') may in some cases, in some Finnic dialects, denote "trying" or "wanting to do", as in Fi. (dialectal, this use is not typical of Standard Finnish) "mies ost-el-i hevos-ta" (man buy-FREQU-PST(3SG) horse-PART) 'the man wanted/tried/would have wanted to buy a horse'. This is mentioned in literature mainly with reference to E. N. Setälä's theory (from 1887) that the Finnic suffixes of irrealis (conditional, potential) moods would go back to frequentative derivational suffixes which, as Setälä supposes, also had a conative function. In the journal Virittäjä in 1983, Tapani Lehtinen points out that Setälä was inspired by Delbrück's ideas of the conative origin of the Indo-European conjunctive.

However, I don't know of any Finnic language variety having a productive or grammaticalised conative formation: what is called "conative" is rather a secondary use of frequentative derivatives.

(The irresultative / partitive objects in Finnic are a question too wide to be dealt with here, but to my knowledge, the term "conative" is usually not used in this connection.)

Johanna Laakso
Univ.Prof. Dr. Johanna Laakso
Universität Wien, Institut für Europäische und Vergleichende Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft (EVSL)
Abteilung Finno-Ugristik
Campus AAKH Spitalgasse 2-4 Hof 7
A-1090 Wien
johanna.laakso at
Project ELDIA: 

Nigel Vincent kirjoitti 27.11.2012 kello 1.42:

> Dear Colleagues,
> I'm interested in uses of the term 'conative'. I have seen it used to describe case alternations equivalent to the difference in English between 'he shot the bear' and 'he shot at the bear', for example in languages like Warlpiri, and Kiparsky has suggested an affinity between the Warlpiri pattern and the alternation between accusative and partitive objects in Finnish. The latter are also sometimes called irresultative. What I am finding it harder to get examples of are instances of conative as a label for verb inflections or periphrases. Matthews' Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics says the term can be used for verb inflections with the meaning 'try to' but he doesn't cite any languages which have this phenomenon. I'd be grateful therefore for any other languages that colleagues can point me to which exhibit a conative construction in this second sense. Aikhenvald's grammar of Tariana identifies a complex predicate construction which she calls 'irresultative' and which comes close: as she says such complex predicates 'describe actions or states which do not quite amount to what they ought to', though in her examples there doesn't seem to be any necessary implication of trying. 
> Thanks,
> Nigel
> P.S. I'm assuming that Jakobson's use of the term 'conative' to describe one of the functions of language is something altogether different.
> Professor Nigel Vincent, FBA
> Professor Emeritus of General & Romance Linguistics
> The University of Manchester
> Vice-President for Research & HE Policy, The British Academy
> Linguistics & English Language
> School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
> The University of Manchester
> Manchester M13 9PL
> UK

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