LINGUIST List 7.393

Thu Mar 14 1996

Qs: Causatives, Mystery phrases, Modals language search

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  1. Gert Webelhuth, Requesting information about causatives
  2. lc22, Mystery phrases
  3. "Alan R. King", Q: Modals language search

Message 1: Requesting information about causatives

Date: Wed, 13 Mar 1996 13:35:11 EST
From: Gert Webelhuth <>
Subject: Requesting information about causatives
I am working on a chapter on causatives in a forthcoming book on
complex predicates. I am trying to find idiosyncracies in causative
formation and have found plenty in synthetically formed causatives and
am now trying to establish whether similar phenomena exist when the
causative is expressed analytically (e.g. by two syntactically
separable verbs). So far, I have been without luck and I would
therefore appreciate the help of the readers of this message.
Here are the kinds of idiosyncracies I am looking for:

1. Are there any languages with more than one causative construction
(at least one of them analytic) and where it is at least in part
unpredictable which construction a particular verb will form its
causative with? In other words, is there something in the domain of
causatives like the partially idiosyncratic choice of the perfective
auxiliaries we find in several Germanic and Romance languages?

2. Are there any languages with arbirary gaps in the formation of
analytically expressed causatives, i.e. some verbs can simply not
cooccur with the causative verb and there is no general explanation
for that?

3. Are there cases of blocking involving analytically expressed
causatives, i.e. cases where the language has a lexical entry that
would mean what the productively formed causative would mean and the
productively formed causastive therefore is never used with that same
meaning (cf. "the day before today" being blocked by the lexical entry
"yesterday" in English).

I would appreciate any pointers to other idiosyncracies involving
analytically expressed causatives. Please note that I am interested in
ITEM-SPECIFIC idiosyncracies, rather than in cases where whole natural
classes of verbs behave differently, e.g. all transitive verbs do one
thing and all intransitives another. References to the relevant
literature would also be much appreciated.

Thank you very much for your time and effort.


Gert Webelhuth
Department of Linguistics
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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Message 2: Mystery phrases

Date: Wed, 13 Mar 1996 16:34:00 EST
From: lc22 <>
Subject: Mystery phrases

A colleague of mine is looking for a possible source for, or any
information on, the phrases "Quistus Quirini" and "Is pesorpher
Quisdois." The writer is Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780), a black former
slave, butler, and grocer in London, writing to his friends in 1778-9.

The phrases appear in the following bits of text:

"They say the Royal chaise was covered with dirt--even the very
glasses.--Quistus Quirini was found very late last night.--Nothing
broke--except the hemmings of advantage."

"by the time you have gone through this scrawl you will be as flat,
dull, adn tedious, as a drunken merry-andrew--or a methodist
preacher--or a tired poor devil of a post-horse; --or, to sum up all
in one word, as your most--what you please,
 *Is pesorpher Quisdois*
 Your true friend and so forth"

Presumably Quistus Quirini could be a name (inauthentically) formed on
Latin models. Our local classicists have been unable to supply
information on these phrases, and the Greek and Latin lexicons are not
enlightening (except of course for "Quirini").

Please reply privately to

Linda Coleman

Vincent Carretta

Department of English
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
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Message 3: Q: Modals language search

Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 11:44:42 GMT
From: "Alan R. King" <>
Subject: Q: Modals language search

The system of (root...) modality found in English, as manifested in
the modal auxiliaries 'can', 'may', 'must', 'will' etc., appears to be
unusual among the world's languages.

(1) Can anyone please show me that the assumption just stated is false
by telling me of other languages with comparable modal systems?

(2) I would also be interested in hearing about languages at the
opposite extreme, which simply do not encode root modality as
understood in English; do such exist? and if so, how do they manage?

To make the above questions meaningful, I must specify the sense in
which I would consider other languages' modal systems comparable to or
different from English, so let me try to do that (with apologies for
the resulting length of this question).

The English modals make up a paradigm that justifies treating (this
concept of) modality as a grammatical category in the language. It is
a formal paradigm as well as a semantic one. The members of the
paradigm share, to a striking extent, morphosyntactic characteristics
that are not shared by items outside the paradigm.

The basic facts of the English modals can be found in any modern
English grammar, but I'll briefly summarise them anyway to make my
point more explicit. In English, certain morphosyntactic features
associated with auxiliaries but not main verbs also characterize the
modals; these have been referred to by the acronym NICE (Palmer,
Huddleston), as illustrated in these examples (from F.R. Palmer, _Mood
and modality_, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 91):

Negative I can't go 
Inversion Must I come? 
'Code' He can swim and so can she 
Emphatic Affirmation He *will* be there

Only the class of verbs referred to as "auxiliaries" (cf. 'do', 'be',
'have') have the NICE properties. But the modals are also distinct
from non-modal auxiliaries; for example, only the modals have no

 *She will can go

and do not take the third-person-singular suffix _-s_:

 *She cans go

Semantically, most of the English modal auxiliaries express notions of
so-called 'root modality', such as:

Modal notion: POSSIBILITY
Root meaning: the subject's ability to do something
English modal auxiliaries: 'can', 'may'

Modal notion: NECESSITY
Root meaning: the subject's need or obligation to do something
English modal auxiliaries: 'must', 'should'

Modal notion: INTENTION
Root meaning: the subject's intention or proclivity to do something
English modal auxiliary: 'will'

Most modals can also have epistemic meanings, relating to the
likelihood of a proposition being true, as in:

 Today must be Friday.

as opposed to the root meaning, as in the most common reading of:

 You must come on Friday.

These should be clearly distinguished in descriptions and analyses,
but I consider the root meanings to be the more basic meanings of the
English modals.

Neither the formal nor the semantic definitions just suggested are
watertight. There are English modal-like items that do not share all
NICE and other formal properties (e.g. 'ought', 'need'...); and the
semantic characterization could be questioned for 'will' and 'shall'
which are semantically also (or so it might be argued) tense markers;
on the other hand, I would expect 'want' to be a modal on semantic
grounds, yet it is outside the formal paradigm in English. Despite
these ragged edges, the English modal category *is* reasonably
clearcut from both formal and semantic perspectives.

Similarly, I would not expect similar systems in other (especially
unrelated) languages to be watertight, nor for their own 'ragged
edges' to occur in the same places as in the English system described.
Furthermore I do not demand (or expect to find) substantive
similarities; indeed, it is not necessary that the modal exponents in
other languages should be auxiliaries, or verbs, at all. They could
be particles, or adverbs, or inflectional categories. However, please

(a) I am *not* looking for mood distinctions (such as 'indicative',
'subjunctive', 'optative'...) which I consider to be a rather
different kettle of fish, although a related one no doubt. (Space
prohibits me from justifying this position.)

(b) Neither am I looking for accounts of (primary) epistemic modality
systems such as have been documented in various languages around the
world, involving interesting but different modal notions such as
'quotative', 'dubitative' and what-have-you.

(c) So I am looking in particular for 'root-modal' systems. The
possibilities within the system should, to be sufficiently analogous
to the English example, constitute a paradigm involving several (at
least three?) choices between different modal meanings (cf. 'can'
vs. 'must' vs. 'will' in English); however, I not attempting to
predict just what these meanings will be (they need *not* translate
'can', 'must' and 'will' respectively!).

Other Germanic languages seem to present systems approaching but not
equalling English as regards clear possession of a grammatical modal
category; as I think I know enough about those systems for the moment,
Germanicists please refrain (unless you wish to challenge what I've
just asserted)! And for example, Romance languages do not qualify,
since the verbs that are translation equivalents of the English modals
(e.g. French 'pouvoir', 'devoir', 'vouloir') are largely ordinary
verbs from a morphological and syntactic point of view. Information
about non-Indo-European languages will be most welcome.

Finally, please remember the second part of my question too (see

I will summarise.

Alan R. King | EMAIL:
Indamendi 13, 7C | [or if all else fails]
20800 Zarautz | FAX: +34-43-130396
Euskal Herria / Basque Country (Spain)
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