Participant-internal possibility modality and its coding in Kazakh

This paper deals with the subcategory of modality – participant­internal possibility modality and its coding in Kazakh with – A al analytical formant. Despite the fact that the category of modality has been studied from the period of Aristotle, there is still no unanimity about its definition, its subcategories and its coding in human language. As the result of the research on the topic participant­internal possibility modality is identified as one of the subcategory of modality which deals with the ability and capacity of the subject of the proposition. In Kazakh participant­internal possibility modality is mostly given by analytical formants, especially by – A al. Moreover, it will be displayed that – A al expresses all semantic properties of participant­internal possibility modality such as inherent / learnt and mental / physical. Therefore it constitutes the core of the functional­semantic of the given modality. The paper also accounts for the interaction of – A al in modal usage with other category operators.

The domain of modality is one of the controversial issues of linguistics in general as well as of Kazakh linguistics. This paper will focus on one of the subcategories of modality, participantinternal possibility modality (henceforth PIPM) which refers « a kind of possibility … internal to a participant engaged in the state of affairs. In the case of possibility we are dealing with a participant’s ability (capacity)» [1, 80] and its expression with analytical verb – A al in Kazakh.

Our central hypothesis is that – A al belongs to the core of the ‘functional-semantic field’ of participant-internal possibility modality and expresses all semantic meanings of ability like inherent / learnt and mental / physical.

There are only few works done to define modality and its means of expression in the Kazakh language. Most of them do not consider modality as a separate category, but investigate separate language units which express modality in general. For instance, Mamadilov Q. and Zhanpeyisov E. analyze modal verb constructions and their meanings, Tolegenov O. deals with mood as one way of expressing modality, Nurmakhanova A. investigates verb constructions and their functions in a sentence, considering expression of modality as one of their functions. As these works concern with formal properties of a language they are considered to be structural studies which treat language as a grammatical system consisting of rules. But the primary function of the language is communication and it is best seen and can be analyzed in its functions. Thus, functional approach is carried out in this paper to identify language units which express participant-internal possibility modality and ability meaning constitutes «functional-semantic field» of PIPM.

The only work on modality in the sense of functionalism in Kazakh is done by Qulmanov S. He explores modality as a functional-semantic category and its means of expression in Kazakh. He defines possibility, probability, obligative, volintative, prohibitive and preventative modality meanings in Kazakh and language units which express these meanings. But in the literature (Palmer F., Van Der Auwera J. and Plugian V.A., Bybee J.) it was pointed out that possibility or dynamic modality can be internal, which constitutes ability meaning, and external which gives root possibility meaning, which is not considered by Qulmanov S. In Kazakh these meanings are mostly given by different means and sometimes the same unit can express both of these meanings. In this paper we will concentrate only on participant-internal possibility and its coding with – A al analytical formant.

The data in this paper were drawn from 10 novels in Kazakh which comprise 3500 pages and

140 sentences or passages were collected with ability meaning. In 41% of cases ability meaning was given by -A al analytical formant.

The structure of the paper is as follows. In Section 2 we will briefly look at the theoretical issues on the topic. Section 3 contains the core of our analysis, i.e. peculiarities of -A al in giving ability meaning. Section 4 outlines relation of PIPM with other categories as aspect, voice.

Theoretical issues

According to Bybee J. and Fleischman S. «modality – … is the semantic domain pertaining to elements of meaning that language expresses. It covers a broad range of semantic nuances – jussive, desirative, intentive, hypothetical, potential, obligative, dubtative, hortatory, exclamative, etc.

– whose common dominator is the addition of a supplement or overlay of meaning to the most neutral semantic value of the proposition of an utterance, namely factual and declarative» [2, 2 ]. We understand modality as an additional meaning to the proposition of the sentence. The overlaying meaning can be explained in terms of possibility and necessity as the action or situation described in the preposition can be 1) necessarily / possibly true / false from the point of speaker (epistemic modality); 2) necessary / possible to do from the point of speaker (deontic modality); 3) necessary / possible to do for the subject of the sentence (dynamic modality). The latter meaning covers PIP modality.

Many scholars tend to use different terms to refer to ability meaning. In this work we look at the classical works on modality. Bybee J., Perkins J, Pagliuca W. treat ability meaning as one of the submeanings of agent-oriented modality and define it as «ability reports the existence of internal enabling conditions in the agent with respect to the predicate action». Also add that ability meaning can generalize to «root possibility, which reports on general enabling conditions and is not restricted to the internal condition of ability, but also reports on general external conditions, such as social and physical» [3, 177-178].

Palmer F. considers ability meaning is covered by sub-class of dynamic modality «subjectoriented» modality and defines that «… dynamic modality is subject-oriented in the sense that it is concerned with the ability or volition of the subject of the sentence, rather than opinions (epistemic) or attitudes (deontic) of the speaker (and addressee)» [4, 36]. The reason for choosing the term « subjectoriented» lies in that fact that only animate creatures have an ability to do something, but the subject of the sentence can be inanimate which have power or quality to do the action in the predicate [5, 76-79].

Van Der Auwera J. and Plugian V. A. favors the term «participant-internal possibility» which means that inner qualities of the subject of the sentence make it possible to fulfill the action given in the proposition [1, 80]. The term can also be contrasted to «participant-external possibility» where because of the external circumstance it is possible to carry out the action. Terms used by Palmer F, Bybee J. et al. and Auwera J. et al. in some sense cover the same semantic domain. For instance, «subject-oriented possibility», «ability» and «participant-internal

possibility» refer to ability/capacity meaning, but we likewise side with Auwera J. et al. as ‘participantinternal possibility» is more specific, can be opposed to its counterpart, also it refers not only to the ability but also capacity of the participant. Also we exploit ability meaning in relation to animate subjects. According to The good English Guide

«ability is an acquired skill: her ability to speak several languages. A capacity is more an innate talent: her capacity for learning languages» [6, 43]. Thus, participant-internal possibility can be further classified as inherent / learnt and mental / physical.

-A al – participant-internal possibility modality operator

According to M. Erdal «a verb phrase can beside a fully lexical kernel, include another verb, which can be grammatical to varying degrees …when only one of the verbs in a verb phrase is lexical to any degree the construction is called ‘analytical» [7, 244]. In Kazakh an analytical verb consists of lexical verb inflected by auxiliary verb and they express a certain grammatical meaning. For example, if we look at the morphological structure of the following analytical verbs, all of them consist of auxiliary verbs preceded by lexical verbs ending in converb suffixes.

1 a. ayt-a al-a-dï,

say-CV take-CV-3SG (He) can say

oqï-p žür,

study-CV go-3SG (He) is studying

In these examples – e ber, – a al, – p žür are analytical formants, which add additional grammatical meanings (modal, aspectual) to the main verb. Each of these analytical formants has an indivisible, single meaning. «They express one single meaning no matter how many components they are composed of and the meanings of components are indivisible and idiomatic. Thus, it is impossible to add any other morphological element to the analytical formant structure» [8, 7]. For instance, – A al analytical formant should consist of these exact elements to express ability meaning, if we use another converb suffix like – ïp al, it will have another meaning, precisely, benefactive meaning.

The most prominent operator of ability in Kazakh is – A al analytical formant. It is composed of present converb – a (with variants –e (used after stems ending in consonant) and –y (used after stems ending in vowels); this do not change the meaning) and auxiliary verb al which lexically means «take»,

but in this format its meaning is bleached. According to Clauson G. the origin and development of the form is obscure [9, 82]. The earliest usage of this form as a marker of possibility / ability seems to be in a Khwarezmian Turkic text from the first half of the 14th century [10, 83]. Since then – A al «has developed into one of the most prominent possibility operator in the Turkic languages which is spread specially throughout the languages of the Northwestern and Southeastern subgroups [10, 1-28] in «non-fused (e.g. Tatar, Kazakh and Kirghiz) and fused variants (e.g. Uzbek, Uyghur)». [11, 83]

As it was mentioned above in – A al analytical formant auxiliary verb al «take» has advanced its lexical meaning to a grammatical one as a result of grammaticalization. When – al is preceded by converb suffixes it gains a modal usage and functions like English «can / be able to» or Russian

«мочь / уметь» (can / may, to be able to. Я могу

/ умею танцевать. I can dance.) (3, 4). Although when – al is not in analytical formant scope it is used in its lexical meaning (2) :

  1. Oġan aqša usïnïp edim, al-dï Him money offer, take-PST

When I offered him money, he took (it).

  1. Suw-da balïq-tay žüz-e al-a-mïn. (M. Maġaïyn) water-LOC fish ADV swim-CV AUX-PreS-


I can swim like a fish in water.

Edige – ädebiyetši. Sondïqtan ol ne närse-ni bol-ma-sïn asqaq,

Edige – literary man-3SG. Therefore he any thing-ACC be-NEG-DAT lofty,

äserli et-ip süwrette-y al-a-dï.

Impressive AUX-CV describe –CV AUX-


Edigeisaliteraryman. Thereforehecandescribe anything loftily, impressively. (M. Maġaïyn)

  • A al analytical formant does not describe the action itself, but shows its state. For instance, in (3) and (4) not the action of swimming and describing is manifested, but its state of possible actualization.
  • A al can express inherent /learnt and physical and mental participant-internal possibility meanings. Sometimes the distinction between these meanings is not clear cut. For example :
  1. -Qureke, ol bäri-miz-ge ortaq qarïndas qoy. Ek-eüw-miz tiri

Qureke, she all-3PL-DAT common sister PART. Two-ENUM-3PL alive

tur-sa-q on-ï qayda-n bol-sa da qutqar-a al-a-mïz. stand-COND-3PL she-ACC where-ACC be-

COND too rescue-CV AUX-FUT-1PL.

Qureke, she is our sister. If we are alive, we will be able rescue her from any situation.

(Q. Shabdanulï)

  1. Men – …...žaz-atïn adam-mïn. Sol Ivan Ivanovič qusap men de šatïp-butïp žaz-a

I – write-PART human-1SG. That Ivan Ivanovič like I too anyhow writeCV

al-a-mïn. On-ïƞ kör-gen-in men de kör-di-m. AUX-PRES-1SG. He-2SG.POSS see-PART-

ACC I too see-PST-1SG.

I – am a writer. I can also write anyhow as that Ivan Ivanovič. I also experienced what he did. (M. Maġaïyn)

In (5) in order to be able to rescue somebody you have to be physically strong and mentally skilled. In this sentences physical ability meaning overlaps with mental ability of a person. In (6) the overlapping meanings are inherent and learnt ones. Someone needs talent and acquired skills to be a writer. Talent and acquired skills of the speaker is displayed by the context well, where he admits that he is a writer he is talking about his talent, when he refers to his experience, learnt skills are meant.

Nevertheless, in most cases these meaning are given separately. For example:

  1. -So da söz bol-ïp pa! Özim de köter-e al-a-mïn.

– That to word be-CV Q! REFL. too lift –CV AUX-FUT-1SG

It is not a big deal! I can lift that myself. (S. Šäymerdenov)

  1. Žat-qa ayt-uw kerek bol-sa, Abay otïr-ǵan žer-de o-nï

Memory-DAT say-INF need be-COND, Abay sit-PART place-LOC it-ACC

aǵïz-ïp, suwdïrat-ïp ayt-ïp ta ber-e al-a-dï.

flow-CV, fluent-CV say-CV too give-CV AUXPRES-3SG.

When it is neccesary to say by heart, Abay can say that quickly and fluently. (M. Äüwezov)

  1. Biraq küz-diƞ ay-sïz qaraƞǵï tün-in-de, dauwïl-dï, žauwïn-dï

But autumn-GEN moon-ADJ dark night-ACC-

LOC, wind-ADJ, rain-ADJ

tuni, kerek bol-sa žalǵïz tüp tobïlǵïnï, žalǵïz šoǵïr qaraǵaydï

night, need be-COND sole bush spirea-ACC, sole bush pine tree-ACC

tab-a al-atïn.


But ,when it is necessary, even in dark moonless night, windy, rainy night of autumn he can find a bush of spirea, a bush of pine tree. (M. Äüwezov)

Whereas (7) displays a physical strength / ability of a person to lift a heavy thing, (8) shows Abay’s mental skill to learn something very vast and say it fluently. In (4) Edige because of his innate capacity can describe anything impressively and beautifully.

(9) shows that person is so skilled and knows the area very well that even in moonless, rainy and windy night can find a bush of tree in steps of Kazakh, where were no signs of direction.

Interaction of participant-internal possibility modality with other grammatical categories

If we analyze all analytical verbs of the given example, it not difficult to notice that lexical verb in the construction takes a converb suffix, thus remains in a non-finite form, whereas auxiliary verb is inflected by the tense and personal markers. – A al inflected by present tense markers shows that person have a general ability/capacity to carry out the action (3),(4),(6),(8), by a past tense marker shows that a person had a general ability (9) or was able to fulfill a certain single action. Therefore, – A al+ PRES refers to Iterative aspect and – A al+ PST refers to both Iterative and Dynamic aspect. In future form – A al shows, first, an ability in the future, on the other hand speaker’s belief that a subject of a sentence will be able to a carry out a certain activity. In this sense, PIPM overlaps with epistemic modality.

Oralbayeva N. in her analysis on the combinability of – A al with other forms, stated that as – A al indicates the person’s ability, it is inflected to the verb with tense and personal markers, other suffixes which are connected with the process of an action precede -A al [8, 79]. Analyzing our data, we have found out that only voice markers precede – A al, precisely, causative (10), cooperative-reciprocal

  1. and reflexive-middle voice suffixes (12) :
  2. Žämiyla qayġï-sï-n da, ökpe-si-n de Žämiyla sorrow-3SG.POSS-ACC too, resentment-3SG.POSS-ACC too

aqïl-ġa žeƞ-giz-e al-dï.


Žämiyla could control her sorrow and resentment

by her sense. (I. Esenberliyn)

  1. -Sen ekeü-miz til tab-ïs-a al-a-mïz.
    • You two-1PL tongue find-REC-CV AUXFUT-1PL.
    • We can get on well (with each other). (M. Maġaïyn)
  2. Maxmut… sïrt adam-ġa sïpayï kör-in-e al-atïn. Maxmut exterior person-DAT polite see-REF-


Maxmut could seem polite to other people. (I. Esenberliyn )

The semantics of – A al and passive voice suffix is not compatible as ability always goes with the subject of the sentence, which is not the case in passive voice. Palmer F. illustrates this feature in English which is also true for Kazakh:

«the semantics would suggest that neutral dynamic modals ought to be voice neutral and that subjectoriented once ought not. If it is possible for Bill to beat John, it is possible for John to be beaten by Bill, but it is not reasonable to suggest that, if Bill has the ability to beat him, John has the ability to be beaten.» [4, 101].



first-person singular


converb REFL. reflexive


first-person plural




second-person singular




third-person singular




third-person plural





























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Magazine: KazNU BULLETIN
Year: 2018
City: Almaty
Category: Philology