the term conative

Paolo Ramat paoram at UNIPV.IT
Tue Nov 27 08:52:53 UTC 2012

Dear Nigel,
if you are looking for  instances of conative as  verb inflections or periphrases I think that Engl. ‘I’m going to+Inf’ , Ital. ‘sto per+Inf’ , Fr. ‘je vais+Inf’ as in ‘je vais voir si....’ are good examples of conatives. Many other languages make use of similar periphrases to express conativity.  
Unfortunately, I am not aware of inflectional verbal forms for conativity, unless you include in the concept also desiderativity (for states of affairs which are not realised): then you could include also Turk. –se (Pres.), –(s)eydi (Past): Keske haber gonderseydik! (diacritics for –s- and –o- are missing!) “If we would have sent the news!” As Hewitt says referring to Western Arabists, “Conative” is used for verbs involving an attempt to do something, without necessarily implying the attainment of the goal (on the contrary  in the Turk. ex. the desire to send the news was not realized)


Prof.Paolo Ramat
Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori (IUSS )
Direttore del Centro "Lingue d'Europa: tipologia, storia e sociolinguistica" (LETiSS)
Palazzo del Broletto - Piazza della Vittoria

27100 Pavia
tel. ++390382375811
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From: Nigel Vincent 
Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 1:42 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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