the term conative

Alexander Coupe ARCoupe at NTU.EDU.SG
Tue Nov 27 02:14:18 UTC 2012

Dear Nigel,

I use 'conative' as a gloss for a verbal suffix that expresses a meaning of 'try to VERB' in Mongsen Ao. I suspect that it has grammaticalised from a verb root meaning 'look', given its semantics and identical phonological form. An alternative gloss for it could be 'probative', as it is also used with the meaning of 'test, try out'.  This 'try/test' meaning is distinct from that of another verbal suffix occurring in the same slot in the verb template and expressing the various meanings  of 'VERB ineffectually; VERB incorrectly; VERB incompletely; VERB repeatedly', for which I use the term 'frustrative.' The latter might be used to describe the wounding of an animal when hunting when the intention was to kill it.

Coupe, A.R. 2007. A grammar of Mongsen Ao. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter



Alexander R. Coupe, Ph.D. | Assistant Professor | Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies | Nanyang Technological University
HSS-03-56, 14 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 637332
Tel: (65) 6592-1567 GMT+8h | Fax: (65) 6795-6525 | Email: arcoupe at<mailto:arcoupe at> | Web:<>
Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area at< at>

From: Discussion List for ALT [mailto:LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG] On Behalf Of Nigel Vincent
Sent: Tuesday, 27 November, 2012 8:43 AM
Subject: the term conative

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.
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

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