the term conative

Mathias Jenny jenny at SPW.UZH.CH
Tue Nov 27 20:13:23 UTC 2012

Dear colleagues

I use the term 'conative' in descriptions of Southeast Asian languages
as an inherent feature of the semantics activity (or volitional) verbs
(e.g. Jenny 2005 'The verb system of Mon', pp. 156f). In the languages
of Southeast Asia I looked at in detail, activity verbs do not
necessarily include the result of the activity, but only denote the
act that is hoped/supposed to lead to the expected result. Relevant
examples in Thai (in near English translation equivalents):

He killed himself but he didn't die. (He tried to but could not commit suicide.)
He ate without swallowing the food. (He could swallow the food.)
I look but don't see. (I can't see anything)

If the result is achieved, it may be expressed by a secondary
(non-volitional) verb, as in Thai

mOOng hen 'I (look and) see' [tones omitted].



On 27 November 2012 19:58,  <andersen at> wrote:
> Dear Colleagues,
> Roman Jakobson (Style in Language 1960:353-357 and later) uses *conative*
> about speech act functions, as a translation of Karl Buehler's (1934)
> *Appellfunktion*. On this, pragmatic, level *conative* subsumes vocatives,
> interrogatives, and imperatives (more widely, mands), all of which try to
> make the interlocutor do something (listen, respond, act). In lectures
> Jakobson sometimes called these "quisitive" functions.
> This is indeed, as Nigel points out, something different from the
> traditional conative morphological categories or de conatu implicatures.
> Henning Andersen
> Quoting Nigel Vincent <nigel.vincent at MANCHESTER.AC.UK>:
>> 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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