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Seminar: Demodality: profiling a novel category at the tense/aspect – modality divide, Patrick Caudal, 13 Feb

Australian National University, Jane Simpson, Shape

Date: 11 February 2020

Seminar: Demodality: profiling a novel category at the tense/aspect – modality divide

Speaker: Patrick Caudal, CNRS & Université de Paris –

When: 13 Feb 2020, 2pm

Where: Engma Room (3.165), HC Coombs Building, ANU


The present talk aims at delineating demodality as a post-modal cluster of frequently conventionalized uses of “modals in the past”. Only some of the relevant phenomena have already been studied in the literature, and so far, they have not been treated as effectively constituting a broader category, or cluster of related categories. In French, modal lexemes (or constructions) are instrumental in forming demodal structures, where they are typically inflected in the passé simple or passé composé, two tenses capable of perfective viewpoint readings. As we will see, these lexemes/constructions historically developed conventionalized meanings, often as implicative meanings. I will suggest that a preliminary inventory of demodal categories should comprise:

  • Ineluctability demodal constructions (dedeontic/denecessitive demodality) : They typically convey meanings such as ‘agent X was compelled/forced to Y’, ‘X had to Y’, or simply ‘it was ineluctable that a Y-event happened)’;
  • Successive demodal constructions (decapacitative demodality) : expressed in French using e.g. pouvoirpast perfective, these can be roughly rendered in English using the verb ‘manage’ or ‘be able to’ construction, and have also been described as instances of ‘actuality entailments’, When negated, they can convey frustrative-like meanings
  • Avertive/frustrativedemodal constructions (deproximative/devolitive demodality) : avertive (‘X nearly V-ed’) and frustrative (‘X tried to V/wanted to V, but didn’t’) grams and constructions
  • Delusional demodal constructions (mistaken thoughts) (dedoxastic demodality): de-doxastic, ‘mistaken thoughts’ demodal meanings indicate that subject held a temporary, belief, which turned out to be delusional/ungrounded, and can be rendered as meaning ‘X wrongly thought that P’.

I will argue that demodal structures form an original grammatical domain, typically originating in complex forms with composite TAM (tense/aspect/modality) marking – either with a constructional/syntactic/ lexical modal plus tense marking, or with multi-exponent TAM morphs in e.g. polysynthetic languages. I will first review evidence in some Romance and Germanic languages to broadly define demodality (with a special emphasis on French data), and then provide a substantial number of data point originating in Australian indigenous languages, so as to substantiate and refine our understanding of the various subcategories demodality encompasses.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University