Workshop ‘Modality in the Indigenous languages of Australia and PNG’

To be held at the Australian Linguistic Society conference 2-4 December 2011, Canberra
With the scientific support of:

Meeting description:
Modality remains one of the most understudied topics in research on the majority of Indigenous languages. Two primary reasons for this situation are that modal categories are notoriously hard to elicit and that their morphological realisation is often highly heterogeneous. The fact that modality tends to interact in complex ways with other grammatical categories such as tense, aspect and mood further adds to the difficulty of providing a comprehensive account of modality in newly described languages.
In recent years, however, modality has received increased interest from both field researchers and theoretical linguists working on Indigenous languages, especially for languages in the Americas (see e.g. Matthewson et al., 2007; Rullmann et al., 2008; Davis et al., 2009; Faller, forthcoming; and at a recent workshop on this theme held at Leiden University (March 25-26, 2010)). Indigenous languages in Australia and Papua New Guinea are also becoming a major focus of attention, however (see e.g. Rumsey, 2001; Verstraete 2005, 2006; McGregor & Wagner, 2006; ; and ongoing work by members of the TAMEAL project: (
The workshop aims to bring together researchers working on modality in Indigenous languages, to build on this emerging research and to indicate new directions for studying modality in the languages of Australia and PNG.
The workshop will specifically address the problems of ‘discovering’ modal categories: How to discuss modality in the field (see e.g. ? How to elicit modality in a systematic way? Secondly, the workshop will tackle the problem of the theoretical/typological identification and study of modal forms. What are the categories most frequently found in the languages of Australia and PNG? What are their semantics and pragmatics? And how do they relate to other grammatical categories?
Although the focus of the workshop is on languages from Australia and Papua New Guinea, more typologically and methodologically/theoretically oriented papers are also invited.
Topics for presentation may include (but are not restricted to):

  • The functions of irrealis marking in a particular linguistic area;
  • The polysemy of mood and modality markers, and how to treat it at the semantics/pragmatics interface;
  • Interactions between modality and other TAM marking in a particular language, or in a crosslinguistic perspective;
  • Experience with fieldwork tasks for eliciting modality;
  • Patterns and frequency of modal marking in spontaneous speech;
  • Historical reconstructions of modal paradigms in a particular linguistic area;
  • Typological parallels between individual languages and cross-linguistic observations outside of Australia/PNG;
  • Semantic domains of possibility, necessity, intention, desire etc. and their encoding.

Provisional programme
 <coming soon>
Information for authors

It is our intention to distibute long abstracts of all the presentations among the workshop participants before the conference. As we announced in our call for papers, authors should submit a short version of their paper, up to 4 pages, no later than one week before the ALS conference. Your short paper should include:

- Your research question;
- Up to 5 striking data examples;
- A brief description of your analysis;
- Your main conclusions;
- A short list of your main references.

Of course this will not allow you to discuss all findings, but given that our time for discussion on the day of the workshop will be very limited, we think that giving everybody a chance to get the gist of your paper before then will greatly benefit the discussion. We also think that we should be able to give you a better idea of the publication options on the day of the workshop itself if we can discuss the contents of the papers in slightly more detail with possible publication partners.
The deadline for your long abstract is Friday 25 November (AEST), if for any reason you think you will not be able to send us a 4-page version of your paper by then, please let us know.