On the development of Romance vs. Australian avertives: Modal bases and aspectual meanings

TitleOn the development of Romance vs. Australian avertives: Modal bases and aspectual meanings
Publication TypeCommunication
Année de publication2022
AuthorsCaudal, Patrick, and Beatrice Pahontu
Titre de la conférenceALT 2022 (14th Conference of the Association for Linguistic Typology)
Date de publication12/2022
Lieu de la conférenceUniversity of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas

On the development of Romance vs. Australian avertives: modal bases and aspectual meanings

(Workshop Failed Expectations and Thwarted Intentions: Avertivity and frustrativity in crosslinguistic perspective)


This talk will give further substance to the claim made in (Caudal 2018) that demodality encompasses both positive and negative meanings, respectively associated with ‘actuality entailment’ (1)/(3) postmodal constructions vs. what we will refer to as ‘inactuality entailment’ postmodal constructions (2)/(4), sometimes realized by separately conventionalized constructions or complex morphological markings (‘postmodal’ being here meant in (van der Auwera & Plungian 1998)’s sense).


(1)       Dieu    a                      voulu              qu’il    survive                        à          la   guerre.

            God     have.3sg.PR    want.PP          that.he survive-3sg.SUBJ.PR to         the war

            ‘God willed it that he should survive the war (= God willed it, and he survived).

(2)       Il         a                      voulu              ouvrir              la         porte.

            He       have.3sg.PR    want.PP          open-INF        the       door

            ‘He (vainly) tried to open the door.’

(3)       Il         a                      pu                   ouvrir              la         porte.

            He       have.3sg.PR    be.able-PP      open-INF        the       door

            ‘He managed to open the door.’

(4)       Il         n’a                               pas      pu                    ouvrir              la         porte.

He       NEG.have.3sg.PR      NEG   be.able-PP      open-INF        the       door

            ‘He (tried and) failed to open the door’.

A brief areal comparative account of demodality across Europe vs. Australia based on a sample of 40 languages (capitalizing on the results of (Caudal 2022a) for its Australian part), will reveal that while SAE languages seem to offer both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ demodal meanings, with a predominance of the former over the latter, Australian languages exclusively grammaticalize or constructionalize negative postmodal meanings – especially so-called avertives (Kuteva et al. 2019), cf. (5)-(6).

(5)       ayana-wu-ni                                                                                           (Iwaidja)

            1sg>3pl.FRUST-hit-FRUST      (TAIM20181114DY@00:04:11) (Author’s filedwork)

‘I was going to hit them but didn’t/nearly hit them’.

(6)       na-buk     yimarnek    ki-buddu-karlkkangki          la.                           (Kunbarlang)

            i-person   CTFCT       3sg.neg-3pl.obj-stalk.irr.pst           conj

            kadda-rnay                 la       kadda-bum.

            3pl.nf-see.pst              conj   3pl.nf-hit.pst

            ‘He was going to sneak up on them, but they saw him & beat him’ (Kapitonov 2019:291)

The core research question addressed in this paper will be – what is the reason behind this typological asymmetry? After identifying distinct, sometimes overlapping development paths for the various categories at stake in both SAE and Australian languages (with avertivity primarily deriving from volitional/proximative aspectuo-modal meanings in Australia), we will hypothesize that the observable differences between Europe and Australia mostly originate in deep differences in the respective types of aspectual systems found in ‘Standard Average European’ (Haspelmath 1998) (especially Romance and Germanic) vs. Australian languages. In particular, following (Caudal 2022b), we will argue that Australian languages frequently lack combinations of ‘strong’ perfective aspectual operators with modal operators in their morphology and lexicon, as they tend to only possess aspectually underspecified and/or ‘weak’ perfective tenses the sense of (Martin 2019) – i.e., past tenses, which even when endowed with perfective meanings, can disregard culminating interpretations, cf. (7), which is an instance of a so-called ‘non-culminating accomplishment’ (Bar-El, Davis & Matthewson 2006).

(7)       n-alyubaru-nu=ma               y-akina        yinumaninga  akena nara     (Anindilyakwa)

            REAL.3M-eat-PST=CTYP MASC-that MASC.food   but       NEG



            ‘He began to eat the wild apple, but didn’t finish it’                 (Bednall 2019: 206)

            (weak perfective; partitive culmination – event began but failed to culminate)

We will conclude by arguing for the centrality of an aspectual-coercion based origin of demodal meanings in Germanic & Romance (although it is not exclusive – Romanian thus offers an Australian-like, imperfective avertive (Pahonțu forthcoming)) – and will suggest that such instances of aspectual coercion should not be regarded as a matter of mere type-shifting operator à la (de Swart 1998), but as a richer, multi-dimensional type of meaning à la (Gutzmann 2015), combining a non-at-issue modal meaning (formerly at-issue), with an innovative ‘actuality entailment’, at issue meaning. Of course, such developments are entirely lacking in Australian languages, for want of proper ‘strong’ perfective grams combining with modal markers.


Auwera, Johan van der & Vladimir Plungian. 1998. Modality’s semantic map. Linguistic Typology 2(1). 79–124.

Bar-El, Leora, Henry Davis & Lisa Matthewson. 2006. On Non-Culminating Accomplishments. In Leah Bateman & Cherlon Ussery (eds.), Proceedings of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 35), vol. 1, 87–102. Amherst, MA.: GLSA (Graduate Linguistic Student Association), Department of Linguistics, University of Massachusetts.

Bednall, James. 2019. Temporal, aspectual and modal expression in Anindilyakwa, the language of the Groote Eylandt archipelago, Australia. Canberra / Paris: ANU & Université de Paris-Diderot PhD Thesis.

Caudal, Patrick. 2018. Demodality: profiling a novel category at the tense/aspect – modality divide. Presented at the 13th International Conference on Tense, Aspect, Modality and Evidentiality (Chronos 13), Université de Neuchâtel.

Caudal, Patrick. 2022a. Avertive/frustrative markers in Australian languages: blurring the boundaries between aspectuo-temporal and modal meanings. In Kasia M. Jaszczolt (ed.), Understanding Human Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Caudal, Patrick. 2022b. Culmination/telicity and event delineation in Australian Languages: phonology, morphosyntax, semantics and pragmatics. In Nora Boneh, Daniel Harbour, Ora Matushansky & Isabelle Roy (eds.), Building on Babel’s Rubble. Saint Denis: Presses Universitaires de Vincennes.

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Martin, Fabienne. 2019. Non-culminating accomplishments. Language and Linguistics Compass 13(8). 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1111/lnc3.12346.

Pahonțu, Beatrice. forthcoming. Périphrases progressives/proximatives et avertivité en roumain. Université de Paris / Universitatea din Bucureşti PhD Thesis.

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