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Friday Afternoon Lecture: Dineke Schokkin

  • Dineke Schokking (the Australian National University)
Tuesday 10 May 2016
P.N. van Eyckhof 2
2311 BV Leiden


Irrealis and past habitual: snapshots from the fringes of PNG


Although ‘irrealis’ is a notion that at first glance seems to have most affinity with the future and counterfactuality, its link with a category of past habitual has quite often been noted, also for Austronesian and Papuan languages (see e.g. Christofaro (2004), De Haan (2012), Givón (2001), Cleary-Kemp (2015)). The realis-irrealis distinction, or more elegantly phrased, a ‘reality status’ category, has often posed problems for researchers doing cross-linguistic comparison, due to the variety of ways it is used across language descriptions. This is because there appears to be no well-defined core to its semantics, a problem that is largely absent from the category of e.g. aspect (Bybee 1998; De Haan 2012).

            This seminar addresses the category of reality status and its use in two languages spoken at almost opposite sides of Papua New Guinea: Idi (Pahoturi River family), as spoken in Dimsisi village, Western Province, and Paluai (Austronesian), spoken on Baluan Island in Manus Province. The two languages are very different typologically, but despite this, regularly use a category that can be analysed as irrealis (since it is, amongst others, used in hypotheticals and counterfactuals) to refer to past events that were carried out in a habitual manner. In the talk, I will give examples of the use of irrealis for past habitual events in both languages. The interrelation between reality status and modality will also be briefly touched upon.


Bybee, J. L. (1998). "Irrealis" as a Grammatical category. Anthropological Linguistics 40(2), 257-271.

Cleary-Kemp, J. (2015). Serial Verb Constructions Revisited: A Case Study from Koro. Doctoral Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Cristofaro, S. (2004). Past Habituals and Irrealis. In: Lander, Y. A., Plungian, V. A., & Urmanchieva, A. Y. (Eds.). Irrealis i irreal'nost'. Issledovanija po teorii grammatiki. Moskva: Gnozis, pp. 256-272.

De Haan, F. (2012). Irrealis: fact or fiction? Language Sciences 34(2), 107-130.

Givón, T. (2001). Syntax: An Introduction, volume 1. John Benjamins, Philadelphia.

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