the term conative

Hewitt, Stephen s.hewitt at UNESCO.ORG
Tue Nov 27 08:02:42 UTC 2012

Dear Vincent,


“Conative” is used by Western Arabists for verbs involving an attempt to do something, without necessarily implying the attainment of the goal.


See for, instance, Mark W. Cowell’s excellent A Reference Grammar of Syrian Arabic, Georgetown University Press, latest edition: 2005. 

and Search Inside “conative” – usually associated with the III verb pattern fā‘al.





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Steve Hew



From: Discussion List for ALT [mailto:LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG] On Behalf Of Nigel Vincent
Sent: 27 November 2012 01:43
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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