Absentives or ambidirectionals?

Motion-cum-purpose constructions with 'be' and the infinitive in Baltic and elsewhere


The present article introduces the ambidirectional, a construction (or sometimes just a distinct type of use of a gram basically serving another function) referring to two-way motion events in the past. The discussion starts out from the notion of absentive, which has already established itself in the literature since de Groot (2000). In many languages the construction ‘be’ + INF, claimed to be an absentive, exists only in a past-tense variety. It is argued that such constructions do not meet the definitional criteria for absentives. We here propose to describe them as ambidirectionals, by which we understand a construction (or a specific type of use of a gram with a broader array of functions) denoting two-way motion-cum-purpose events in the past. The absentive can be characterised as a particular type of use of an ambidirectional construction, which allows different focusing: either a holistic view is given of the motion event or its outward point is focused upon, and in the latter case the presence of an external observer yields the absentive interpretation. The fact that the constructions involved are basically ambidirectional explains why in many languages they are restricted to the past, while other languages allow occasional or regular extensions to the domain of the present.


absentive; ambidirectional; motion verb; motion event; pluperfect

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Published : 2019-12-31

Holvoet, A., & Žeimantienė, V. (2019). Absentives or ambidirectionals?. Baltic Linguistics, 10, 155-193. https://doi.org/10.32798/bl.363

Axel Holvoet 
Vilnius University, Institute for the Languages and Cultures of the Baltic, Universiteto g. 5, LT-01131 Vilnius  Lithuania
Vaiva Žeimantienė 
Vilnius University, Institute for the Languages and Cultures of the Baltic, Universiteto g. 5, LT-01131 Vilnius  Lithuania