the term conative

Alice Vittrant vittrant at VJF.CNRS.FR
Tue Nov 27 11:23:29 UTC 2012

Dear Colleagues, 

I used 'conative' like Alec does, for the Burmese verb 'to look', when it is used as verbal modifier (serial verb construction) meaning 'try/test V'. 
- Burmese : 	sa3	Ci1	Pa2
			eat	look	POL
			Please try it (when eating)

Conative is however defined in French linguistics,  as "un type de formation verbale propre à exprimer l’effort" (See also Cinque (1999 : 105) : « [the so-called ‘conative’ aspect] marks the fact that a certain action may require some effort »).
It is also found in the literature with the meaning  « the SoA is attempted, but not finished » (Dik (1997/1 : 224), which is similar to 'attemptive' (See Strauss (2002 : 144) ou « attempt » by Bybee & al (1994 : 264)).

So, I finally choose the term 'experimentative' for this special use of the verb LOOK, as its use as a verbal marker generally entails that the agent tests and does the action, which is not what is suggested by previous definitions.
The difference between experimentative and conative could be illustrated with the different uses of the verb 'essayer' (french) or 'try' (english).
CONATIVE:  essayer de V / try to V => He tried to eat [but didn't succeed in eating]
EXPERIMENTATIVE: - essayer N / try N	=> He tried a mango [means he eat it at least partially]

In the use of the verb 'LOOK' in Burmese and other Asian languages, and as suggested by Alec's gloss test, the SoA is done. When you EAT-LOOK something in Burmese, you definitely test the food!
This grammaticalisation of the verb meaning 'see, look' is frequent in (South East) Asian languages : 
- Lahu, Lalo, Thnagkul-naga, Akha, Pwo-Karen (TB language) 
- Hmong,
- Japanese (miru)
- Korean (colloquial) : Po-ta V
- (Japanese Sign language uses a manual hand shape similar to the one for 'look' with a different face expression).



Alice Vittrant
Université d'Aix-Marseille / CNRS-LACITO
vittrant at

Le 27 nov. 2012 à 03:14, Alexander Coupe a écrit :

> 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
> Regards,
> Alec
> ---
> Alexander R. Coupe, Ph.D. | Assistant Professor | Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies | Nanyang Technological University
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