Nora Boneh and Łukasz Jędrzejowski

Reflections on habituality across other grammatical categories

De Gruyter | 2019


The main aim of this introduction article is to give a general overview of how habituality has been investigated in the literature as a grammatical category. In doing so, we first elaborate on the question of how habituality can be characterized and what difficulties one encounters in determining its properties, which include non-contingent modal event recurrence. A brief discussion of these issues is given in Section 2. Section 3 outlines selected (conceptual and formal) connections between habituality and other grammatical categories. What our observations essentially indicate is that habituality, on the one hand, closely interacts with several TAM categories, most prominently imperfective aspect and its derivatives (progressive, continuative), and also interacts in special ways with modal categories, such as the evidential or the future, on the other hand, we also observe – as has been done previously – that habituality is often not encoded overtly and can be expressed by several forms within one and the same language, and if overtly marked by a dedicated form, diachronically, it is not always stable. Finally, Section 4 summarizes the most relevant findings of the articles collected in the present special issue and highlights their importance for the general discussion about habituality.

1 Introduction

In comparison to well established linguistic categories such as aspect, tense, modality or evidentiality, habituality has received considerably less attention. For instance, in The World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) habituality is not treated on its own. Dahl and Velupillai (2013) dispense with discussing it altogether: “[w]e have been forced to neglect a number of gram types, most of which have interesting geographical distributions; among these are habituals, iteratives, frequentatives, dedicated narrative forms, resultatives and experientials.”

There may be several reasons for this state of affairs. One could be that although there seem to be dedicated habitual forms, such as the semi-auxiliary verbs used to in English and soler in Spanish, in many cases, as Dahl (1985, 1995) noted, habitual statements seem to emerge without any overt morphological marking, not even adverbials (e.g. Mary smokes). [1] Also, when an overt marker of habituality (inflectional or derivational) does exist, it often is also associated with other linguistic categories: most commonly, markers of imperfectivity (Bonomi 1997, Lenci and Bertinetto 2000, Bertinetto and Lenci 2012), of modality or irrealis (e.g. Givón 1994, Tagliamonte and Lawrence 2000, Boneh and Doron 2008) or pluractionality markers (Cusic 1981, van Geenhoven 2004, 2005). Thus, in examining the formal means to mark habituality, it appears that semantically too, it tends to be subsumed under other existing categories such as genericity and aspect (this point will be further developed in the next section).

These tendencies are confirmed also from a diachronic perspective. Heine and Kuteva (2002) register and zero in on cross-linguistic patterns illustrating that progressive, continuous, iterative and comitative markers as well as selected lexical verbs, in particular exist, go, know, live, remain, sit and use grammaticalize into habitual markers (see also Bybee et al. 1994: 140–152, Haspelmath 1998, Tatevosov 2005). Likewise, Maurer (2013) focusing on habitual expressions in creole and pidgin languages mentions the verbs can, know and love as possible grammaticalization sources for habituality. Though, these authors simultaneously stress that more research is required to establish the significance of these pathways, as no detailed studies of how habitual markers come into being are available (see also Bybee et al. 1994: 155).

The described state of affairs might lead one to question whether it is justified to consider habituality as a linguistic category in its own right. But in order to tackle this issue, it should be elucidated, from a conceptual perspective, how habituality is to be captured interpretatively. This understanding may allow us to see what types of associations between form and meaning are to be expected with respect to habituality.

Against this background, the central aim of the present special issue is to empirically contribute to the research on the expression of habituality from a typological-comparative and diachronic perspective in a variety of understudied languages from a rich range of language families: Austronesian, Quechuan, Sino-Tibetan, Uralic, and also Indo-European. The different articles come together to show a complex picture as to the variety of morphological means giving rise to the expression of habituality, and the affinity of these formal means to other linguistic categories. Some of the typologically and geographically unrelated languages surveyed in the special issue present parallel patterns that confirm the tight connection between habituality and imperfectivity (these are Quechua and Shumcho, and to some extent the Oceanic languages). In other cases, less expected connections are revealed, as is the case of Moksha Mordvin, where a non-accidental affinity is suggested to hold between a pluractional marker, which also gives rise to habituality and an avertive marker.

Before presenting the individual articles collected in this special issue (in Section 4), we tackle the questions raised above, first by considering in the next section the received wisdom as to the interpretative properties of habituals, and second, by overviewing the types of formal means associated with the expression of habituality and their interaction with other established linguistic categories (Section 3). Hopefully, these sections together with the collection of articles will provide elements for answering the question to what extent habituality is to be understood as a category in its own right.

2 Characterizing habituality

Semantically, habituality is generally understood to encode a modal event recurrence. The two components of this way to capture habituality have been treated separately or together in various ways. First, irrespective of habituality, verb plurality has been extensively explored both by semanticists, such as Lasersohn (1995), Vlach (1993), Landman (2000), Kratzer (2008), van Geenhoven (2004, 2005), to mention only a few, and typologists, in the study of iteratives, multiplicatives and frequentatives, see the seminal collection of articles edited by Xrakovskij (1997), and also, more recently, the special issue on pluractionality co-edited by Anne Storch and Jules Jacques Coly in Language Typology and Universals 70(1), 2017. In the context of habituality, the modal component teases habituality apart from plain iteratives, which can be counted (e.g. She smoked twice), from accidental bounded recurrences, such as those named frequentatives (e.g. She kicked a ball for an hour), and from multiplicatives (e.g. She blinked a few times/for a few minutes), construing the event recurrence as non-contingent. The modal component has been formalized in several ways, emphasizing, in turn, the rule-like or gnomic nature of habituals (e.g. Krifka et al. 1995), their dispositional properties (Boneh and Doron 2010, 2013), or their unboundedness, also in the modal sense, where there is a tendency for the initiated habit to go on given normal circumstances (e.g. Verkuyl 2005).

The challenge for all the various views on habituality is how to capture at the same time actual recurrences of the events instantiating the habit, without any commitment to actual occurrences at speech time or the relevant reference time (or in the actual world).

A major tenant in the field is to take the modal component of the habitual to be identical to the operator Gen underlying generic states, such as e.g. A dog has four legs. The operator creates a gnomic, rule-like, generalization over individuals (of the type dog), or over events or situations, e.g. smoking situations after dinner involving Mary, in examples such as: Mary smokes after dinner. In other words, under this approach, modality introduces the rule-like nature of habituality, subsuming it under genericity. The main proponents of such an approach are, among others, Carlson (1977), Dahl (1985), Schubert and Pelletier (1987), Krifka et al. (1995), Landman (2008). In an attempt to nuance the approach of habituality as a particular case of genericity, Boneh and Doron (2010, 2013) suggest that whereas some habitual expressions underlie the generic operator Gen operating on episodic occurrences, others are built on a disposition-based event iteration in all the relevant accessible worlds, where nothing inhibits the disposition from being manifested habitually. In terms of the linguistic manifestation of this distinction the authors point to differences between bare habitual expressions, and those relying on an overt quantificational restrictor; in principle the former is claimed to underlie Hab, and the latter Gen (for other views setting aside bare habituals, see also Scheiner 2003, Rimell 2004, Vogeleer 2012).

A related but somewhat different view emphasizes the unbounded nature of the habit, where the habit can be maintained without interruptions once initiated (Verkuyl 1995, Bonomi 1997, Lenci and Bertinetto 2000, Bertinetto and Lenci 2012, a.o.). This type of semantic approach to habituality resonates Comrie’s (1976) seminal work on tense and aspect, where it has been suggested that habituality is tightly linked to the imperfective aspect and that it cannot occur with perfective verbs, as presented in Figure 1 (see also von Prince et al.’s findings in Oceanic languages in this issue):

Figure 1: Classification of aspectual oppositions according to Comrie (1976).

Figure 1:

Classification of aspectual oppositions according to Comrie (1976).

Lenci and Bertinetto (2000) and Bertinetto and Lenci (2012), following Bonomi (1997), take up this idea and develop a formal account, in which imperfective aspect is formalized in such a way that gives rise to gnomic generalizations, whereas, according to them, perfective grammatical aspect, may only express accidental and non-contingent event recurrences; see also Cipria and Roberts (2000), Deo (2009), and Verkuyl (1995) who make similar conceptual and formal claims. In a similar way, Giannakidou (1995) assumes habitual statements to be imperfective and non-veridical, separating them, at the same time, from generic statements by the (im)possibility of licensing negative polarity items.

A somewhat different attempt to formalize the modal component of habituals, while at the same time accounting for the formal affinity to imperfective aspect is developed by Ferreira (2005, 2016). According to Ferreira, habituals and progressives are modal in the same way (see Portner 1998, Landman 1992), they differ as to the type of VP this modal operator applies to: a VP referring to singular events in the case of the progressive, and one referring to plural events, in the case of the habitual:

  1. e: … sg(P)(e)… (progressive reading)

  2. e: … pl(P)(e)… (habitual reading) [Ferreira 2016: 358, ex. 14, 15]

The fact that progressive aspect and habituality are semantically related can be witnessed also in typological studies. For instance, in the study of Maslova (2003) investigating the Yukaghir languages, Kolyma (Southern) and Tundra (Northern) Yukaghir, spoken in three small multi-lingual villages in the Saha (Yakut) Republic in northeast Russia. [2] Although their grammars are closely related, they exhibit interesting differences, too. One of them pertains to the use of the imperfective suffix nu. While in Tundra Yukaghir it is restricted to progressive meaning, in Kolyma Yukaghir nu has been also extended to habitual contexts (cf. Maslova 2003 for more details). In Jedek, a recently discovered variety of Malaysia spoken by about 280 individuals in the resettlement area of Sungai Rual, near Jeli in Kelantan state, the imperfective morpheme jk triggers a habitual interpretation:

Jedek [Yager and Burenhult 2017: 515, ex. 9b]
ʔapay jk-jok lɛh d=k=sɛɲ kaduy
1pl.excl ipfv-to:move:around emph contr=loc=front pstdist

We used to move around in the old days’

Thus, treating habituality as a subdomain of imperfectivity is not surprising from a typological point of view. However, some opposing view to the tight affinity between habituality and imperfectivity has been voiced in the last decade by several authors such as Filip and Carlson (1997), Barcz (2009), Klimek-Jankowska (2012), Boneh and Doron (2013), Filip (2015, 2018), considering such languages as English, Czech, Polish, Hebrew and French, and showing that habituals can occur in perfective environments, as well. The following examples from Slavic languages exemplify the compatibility of habituality with perfectivity:

Russian (East-Slavic) [Filip 2018: 22]
Nastojaščij drug vsegda pomožet
real friend always help.3sg.perf

‘A real friend will always help you’

Serbo-Croatian (South-Slavic) [Mønnesland 1984: 62]
Svako jutro popijem čašu rakije
ever morning drink.1sg.perf glass brandy

‘Every morning I drink a glass of brandy’

Polish (West-Slavic) [Lenga 1976: 46]
Ja codziennie przepalę 20 papierosów
I every:day smoke.1sg.perf 20 cigarettes

‘I smoke 20 cigarettes every day’

Kleiber (1987) discusses also some examples from French. One of them is given below:

French [Kleiber 1987: 216, ex. 45]
Paul est allé à la messe le dimanche pendant trente ans
Paul went.perf to church on Sunday for thirty years

‘Paul went to church on Sundays for 30 years’

Whereas these examples all appear with quantificational expressions, and therefore, one might say that in this case, habituality is entirely due to adverbial means (see discussion in Lenci and Bertinetto 2000), examples of perfective habits featuring bare habituals are considered by Boneh and Doron (2010, 2013) and Vogeleer (2012), and also exemplified by Kleiber (1987), from whom the following example is taken:

French [Kleiber 1987: 215, ex. 41]
Paul a travaillé chez Renault
Paul worked.perf at Renault

‘Paul worked at Renault’

The occurrence of habitual statements in perfective environments is additionally tied to interpretative differences. While discussing data from Polish, Klimek-Jankowska (2012) argues that whereas imperfective habituals can be analyzed both as dispositional and as descriptive habituals, their perfective counterparts can be treated only as the former. What dispositional and descriptive habituals have in common is that they express, as Klimek-Jankowska (2012) claims, atemporal, law-like, non-accidental generalizations over eventualities and contain a Hab operator. On the other hand, they differ with regard to two different properties. Firstly, contrary to dispositional habituals, descriptive habituals require the existence of verifying instances of the described eventualities in the actual world. Secondly, the accessibility relation of descriptive habituals is taken to be relative to circumstances of the iterated event, while in the case of dispositional habituals it is the speech event. Taken together, Klimek-Jankowska (2012) assumes two different habitual operators, habdescr for descriptive habituals and habdisp for dispositional habituals.

These examples, and the relevant discussions in the above cited articles, suggest that habituality need not be universally treated as a sub-domain of imperfectivity. More generally, it has been suggested by several authors that despite appearances, habituality, at least in some languages, is a category of grammatical aspect interacting with it in various ways (cf. Filip and Carlson 1997, Filip 2015, 2018, Boneh and Doron 2010, 2013).

3 Habituality and its interaction with other grammatical categories

After this rather close scrutiny of habituality and grammatical aspect, let us turn to consider other types of interactions with existing categories.

One such affinity is observed with the category of evidentiality. Quiñonez (2016: 274–276) points out that Kakua, an Amazonian language spoken in the area of the Vaupés (Northwest Amazonia, eastern Colombia), possesses a dedicated habitual prefix: . It is attached to a verb, restricted to non-future tense forms and supposed to encode habituality:


Kakua [Quiñonez 2016: 275–276, ex. 27, 28, 31]




‘I used to not talk’ (context: I used to not know Spanish, I used to not talk)

niʔat=diʔ wã=pĩ-hêjʔ-kan=ka
every=obj 1sg=hab-know-neg=ass

‘I usually don’t know’




‘I’m always afraid’

Interestingly, it turns out that the grammatical role of is more complex than assumed. In addition to its habitual function, is taken to imply some level of assumption about the veracity of the proposition by the speaker, blocking its occurrence with reported or inferred evidential expressions:

[…], although its main semantics is that of habituality, the speaker expresses a certain attitude towards the veracity of the proposition when using the habitual prefix. In other words, because the habitual prefix conveys that a given situation usually occurs in a certain predictable way, the speaker is also encoding a degree of confidence towards the content of the proposition, because she assumes that, given the habituality of the situation, it is assumed to occur (or have occurred), as is being stated. (Quiñonez 2016: 276)

The observation that habituality may interact with evidentiality is typologically not surprising. In the Yukaghir languages mentioned above, a distinction between future and non-future tense is made. Correspondingly, the use of a particular evidential expression strongly depends on tense and aspect values. For example, if a verb is marked for the continuous aspect and if it occurs with an inferential evidential marker, the embedded proposition is anchored in the past. This restriction disappears as soon as a direct realis marker is attached to the verb stem. In this case, both past and present tense anchoring is possible. What is interesting in this context is that no temporal-evidential restrictions arise when the speaker quantifies habitually over the embedded proposition; see also Huber and Cahlon, this issue, for similar (diachronic) observations on Shumcho and Quzco Quechua, respectively. Why habituality appears to be compatible with both types of evidential expressions and overwrites temporal restrictions observed for the other aspectual values still remains an open issue.

A completely different picture arises with respect to Khalkha, a Mongolian language. According to Brosig and Skribnik (2018: 562), the presence or absence of evidential marking depends on aspect, too. But, as opposed to the Yukaghir languages, evidential marking is rare if a statement is interpreted habitually. On the other hand, if the speaker refers to a simple temporary statement using a progressive form, an evidential expression has to be used. More in-depth cross-categorical studies are needed in order to understand this variation between Yukaghir and Khalkha. In a similar vein, in Qiang, a Tibeto-Burman language mainly spoken on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau in the mountainous northwest part of Sichuan Province (China), LaPolla (2003: 67) observes an interesting relation between habituality and evidential strategies. The default inferential morpheme is k; depending on the event and the information source, it can express either inferentiality or mirativity in the sense claimed by DeLancey (1997, 2001, 2012). In fact, if the speaker having access to an inferred evidence reports about a state or a perfective situation, (s)he can do so by using one of the two morphemes: i) the adverbial phrase χsuɲi ‘seems’, ii) the possibility marker tɑn or lɑhɑn. However, the choice of the particular morpheme seems to be determined by whether the embedded proposition is interpreted episodically or habitually:

Generally the inference marker is used for single instances of an event, such as if someone was supposed to quit smoking, but then the speaker sees cigarette butts in an ashtray, the speaker could use the inference marker to comment that (it seems) the person had smoked. If it was discussed as a habitual action, then again generally the construction with [tɑn] or [lɑhɑn] would be used. (LaPolla 2003: 67)

It needs to be examined more systematically to what extent habituality and evidentiality may affect each other. Not much is known about their interdependency, but see Huber (this issue) on Shumcho and Bhat (1999) on other Tibeto-Burman languages, for some interesting observations. Both categories seem to be connected diachronically, too. Nikolaeva and Tolskaya (2001: 461) report that in Udihe, a Tungus language spoken by approx. 100 people in the southern part of the Russian Far East, the reported speech marker gune goes back to a habitual form of the verb ‘say’. How this happened requires further investigation, but it is reasonable to assume that diachronic pathway of development relies on some common modal feature common to habituality and evidentiality.

A similar observation has been made by Tatevosov (2005) considering a recurrent diachronic pathway between habituals and future forms and suggesting that both underlie a common ability modal (cf. Kozlov on Moksha Mordvin this issue). Relatedly, it seems that nominalizations can also be a source for modal genericity that feed the formation of habitual constructions (see Cahlon on Cuzco Quechua and Huber on Shumcho, this issue).

Moving on to consider the interaction between habituality and tense, and in some contrast to the semantic and diachronic affinity between habituality and future time reference, it has been observed by typologists that habituality is more richly expressed in the past tense than in the present (cf. Bybee et al. 1994: 155, Cristofaro 2006: 154). This need not to be a property specific to habituals, if one considers the Romance languages, since there the past tense is more nuanced in terms of grammatical aspect compared to non-past tense forms. This presumably goes back to the tight affinity noted in the previous section between habituality and grammatical aspect. However, in some cases, even outside the Romance languages, the past tense seems to proliferate with habitual forms, compared to other tenses. English used to and the Hebrew periphrastic construction, which is only available when the auxiliary is inflected for past tense, exemplify such a state of affairs.

This discussion leads us to consider next the issue of dedicated habitual forms. Examples for dedicated habitual forms are the English used to mentioned above (see a.o. Jørgensen 1988 and Tagliamonte and Lawrence 2000, for more details), the Spanish soler construction (see Laca 2004), the third stage Cuzco Quechua construction documented in this issue by Cahlon, or the Polish zwyknąć construction described also in this issue by Sawicki, to name just a few. These constructions are not the sole means to expresses habituality in the verbal system, and truly dedicated habitual forms seem relatively rare or unstable, if one considers the case of Cuzco Quechua described by Cahlon in this issue. In what follows, we consider these two properties in turn.

Languages with dedicated habitual forms contrast with a language like Yakkha, a Kiranti language spoken in Eastern Nepal, where a dedicated habitual marker is completely missing, and where in order to convey a habitual meaning, one has to use the simple past:

Yakkha [Schackow 2015: 235, ex. 28]
encho, a-ppa wa-ya=niɲa
long:ago 1sg.poss-father exist[3]-pst=ctmp



‘Long ago, when my father was still alive, we used to plant it’

In English, habituality in the past tense can be expressed in three different ways, either by dedicated forms, e.g. used to, or by other grammatical strategies, which are not specific to the expression of habituality (see Comrie 1976), e.g. the simple past (see also Haspelmath 1998), or would, which appears also in subjunctive conditionals (see Boneh and Doron 2010, 2013):


  1. I used to smoke

  2. I smoked

  3. I would smoke

However, having said that, the fact that used to can also give rise to a continuative reading brought Binnick (2005, 2006) to convincingly show that the English used to should rather be qualified as a verb that selects for states and is perfect-like. This is an illustration of how a so called dedicated habitual form is not one. For a similar proposal regarding the periphrastic construction in Modern Hebrew see Boneh and Doron (2010, 2013).

Although Dryer and Haspelmath (2013) do not offer any chapter on habituality in The World Atlas of Language Structures, more in-depth studies are still needed in order to better understand the nature of dedicated habitual markers. By contrast The Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures (APiCS) containing a database from 76 pidgin and creole languages from around the world (cf. Michaelis et al. 2013) can provide insights about how habituality can be encoded cross-linguistically. [3] In his chapter, Uses of the habitual marker, Maurer (2013) observes that 17 languages have no overt habitual marker. This is the case, for example, in Guyanais, Mauritian Creole, Seychelles Creole or Tayo, all being French-based languages. This does not mean that creole and pidgin languages do not tend to develop dedicated habitual markers; quite the contrary, as other languages possess morphemes associated only with the grammatical category of habituality and having no other functions. Maurer (2013) lists numerous such languages, among them six Ibero-Romance-based languages, fifteen English-based languages, two French-based languages, two Dutch-based languages, and also Kikongo-Kituba, Sango, Hawai'i Creole.

The database also indicates that habitual markers are often inclined to develop out of a lexical verb. In the following example from Haitian Creole, it is the verb konn ‘know’ that grammaticalized into a habitual marker:

Haitian Creole [Fattier 2013]
Kòlbè konn vann liv isi a
Colbert hab sell book around here def

‘Colbert usually sells books around here’

In all other cases, habitual markers can often fulfill other functions most of which are explicably linked to temporality and aspect or modality.

In comparison to well-studied languages, it is interesting to consider the role of periphrasis with respect to habituality. In many unrelated languages, dedicated habitual forms are periphrastic. The components of the periphrastic constructions can range from so-called bleached nouns (e.g. say, know, exist, go, live, remain, sit), to verbs based on a noun/verb meaning use or custom (cf. the verb pflegen in German, zwyknąć in Polish or bruka in Swedish), simple copular verbs (e.g. in Cuzco Quechua, Shumcho or Hebrew), modal verbs (e.g. English will and would).

In sum, investigating these dedicated forms from a synchronic and diachronic perspective can shed more light on the way habituality interacts with other linguistic categories, and on the larger question of whether habituality is indeed a category in its own right.

All articles collected in the current issue address questions related to the properties of dedicated habitual forms for the expression of habituality. While von Prince et al., Huber and Kozlov deal with the range of patterns associated with non-dedicated forms, Cahlon concentrates on the development of inherent habitual markers. Sawicki, in turn, examines main distributional properties of both strategies in Polish.

4 The structure of this special issue

In what follows, we briefly summarize the most important findings of the contributions collected in the present special issue, all relying on extensive field work and attested examples and show how they contribute to the current research on habituality.

Kilu von Prince, Ana Krajinović, Anna Margetts, Nick Thieberger and Valérie Guérin’s contribution, Habituality in four Oceanic languages of Melanesia, is concerned with the question of how habituality can be expressed in Daakaka, Mav̋ea, Nafsan, and Saliba-Logea, spoken in New Guinea as well as in Vanuatu, and to what extent it interacts with other grammatical categories, mainly with imperfectivity and (ir)realis. The interaction with imperfectivity indicates that habituality is often encoded by morphemes expressing imperfective aspect. As outlined above, typologically it is not surprising. As for the mood distinction, von Prince et al. show that both realis and irrealis expressions can occur in habitual contexts. Differences between the individual languages are to be observed though. For instance, whereas the default mood for habitual contexts in Daakaka is realis, irrealis proclitics are usually attested in Nafsan. Importantly, the authors note that in all the surveyed languages, habituality is commonly unmarked, but alongside null marking the authors identify different strategies the languages employ, not always uniformly, for encoding habituality: (i) auxiliaries deriving from a verb meaning stay, (ii) reduplication, and (iii) patterns/markers characteristic of one of the languages under investigation, e.g. an imperfective affix in Mav̋ea. The authors draw attention to the fact that despite the prevailing null marking and the optionality it brings to understand a given sentence as either habitual or episodic (ongoing/progressive) or iterative, cases where a sentence is obligatorily interpreted as habitual often combine two means of expression of the list above, e.g. an imperfective marker with reduplication. Finally, it is noted that in these languages there are no temporal restrictions on the expression of habituality, but indeed synchronically and diachronically there is a tight affinity between the expression of habituality and imperfectivity.

Rammie Cahlon’s article, The evolution of past-hab in Cuzco Quechua, focuses on the grammaticalization of a past habitual marker of the verb be and a nominalized form in Cuzco Quechua (Quechuan). In his corpus-based contribution adopting the habitual grammaticalization path outlined in Bybee et al. (1994), Cahlon develops an account with four stages encompassing the evolution of the construction under investigation. Cahlon illustrates that the combination of the nominalization and the copula acquired a habitual meaning with no tense restriction. The author also identifies how the construction grammaticalized further into a generalized imperfective and has become restricted to past contexts, as time went by.

Christian Huber’s contribution, Progressivity and habituality in Shumcho, provides an in-depth survey of imperfective and progressive forms that give rise to the expression of habituality in the West Himalayish language Shumcho. In this survey, Huber pays careful attention to the interaction of these verbal forms and lexical aspect. He shows that the progressive form, which is periphrastic, is quite similar to other well documented progressives, in that it ‘coerces’ achievements and is generally not available with statives, unless they can be tied to a specific situation. The synthetic imperfective form, on the other hand, besides expressing imperfective events is also used to convey generic, habitual and future events. Additionally, the imperfective form can combine with copulas/auxiliaries, which render it exclusively habitual, where each type of auxiliary contributes additional meaning layers having to do with undefined time reference, but also evidentiality and mirativity, positioning the speaker as direct or indirect witness of the habit. The picture that emerges is a highly intricate one, showing various morphological means that can be employed to express habituality, albeit with varying nuances, but all sharing the feature of being non-perfective. Considering the diachronic development of these forms, the author suggests that the imperfective form originated as a nominalized or adjective-like form.

Interestingly, the suggested diachronic path seems to be opposite to the one in Cuzco Quechua: Whereas in Shumcho, a nominalized form first gives rise to imperfectivity, and then deriving habituality via the addition of an auxiliary, in Cuzco Quechua, the nominalized form with a copula initially gave rise to habituality, gradually, through the loss of precise time reference, has become a generalized past imperfective. In Shumcho, no process of neutralization of tense reference is attested, and in this respect Shumcho is like the Oceanic languages.

Alexey Kozlov’s contribution, Iterative and avertive polysemy in Moksha Mordvin, studies a rather unusual affinity between a pluractional derivational affix, also giving rise to habituality, and an avertive one. The author first surveys the array of phonologically conditioned allomorphs dedicated to the expression of pluractionality, examining their distribution, and the way they interact with the various types of predicates in terms of lexical aspect. Kozlov observes that while the pluractional affixes may give rise to both internal and external pluractionality, the affix is obligatory when the sentence is to be interpreted habitually. Then the author turns to discuss the distributional and interpretative properties of the avertive affix əkšn’ə, which attaches to telic/perfective verbs, irrespective of the phonological properties of the root, and expresses that the underlying event was on the verge of happening, but eventually did not. In this respect, the Moksha Mordvin avertive differs from the English be about to which stays neutral as to the subsequent realization of the event. It appears then that distributively the pluractional kšn’ə and the avertive əkšn’ə can never be truly ambiguous. Also, due to selectional restrictions, the two morphemes seem not to be combinable. The highly improbable combination of consonants leads to think that there is a diachronic affinity between the two. The proposed explanation to this unusual grammaticalization path relies, presumably, on the prospective as a common core. Whereas, the connection between the avertive and the prospective is transparent, it is less so for the pluractional, and the author conjectures that non-commitment to actual event occurrence at the reference time is the heart of the matter, mentioning also evidence from related languages for conditional uses tied to similar combinations of consonants.

Finally, Lea Sawicki’s contribution, Expressions of habituality in Polish, deals with the synchronic heterogeneity of Polish habituals. She follows the received ideas and defines the category of habituality as “a summarized presentation of similar events occurring over relatively prolonged stretch of time, on several separate occasions not specified by number, with a clear interval between the occasions”. Sawicki registers four different patterns encoding habituality in Polish: (i) imperfective verb, primary or derived from a perfective verb, (ii) imperfective verb derived from another imperfective verb, (iii) periphrastic construction with the verb zwyknąć ‘used to’ + infinitive of an imperfective verb, and (iv) impersonal reflexive construction composed of the reflexive pronoun się and an imperfective verb. The author exemplifies these expressions and some of their contexts of use, also commenting on their productivity.

5 Conclusion

The contributions collected in this special issue offer new typological and diachronic perspectives on the notion of habituality as a linguistic universal and its relation with other grammatical categories across typologically unrelated languages.

In addition to examining particular habitual expressions in individual languages, it also provides new insights into verbal grammatical categories in general, while confirming attested tendencies as to the affinity between habituality and modality, through imperfectivity or otherwise, and the tendency for periphrasis in the formation of dedicated habitual markers, or complex aspectual markings attested in the Oceanic languages.

The recurring tendencies surveyed here and in the cited literature suggest that habituality is closely intertwined with other TAM categories, but additional work is needed to establish more precise correlations between these categories and the availability or not of an abstract category that is habituality, instantiated by a predictable pool of morpho-syntactic means in the different languages.


This special issue goes back to the 22nd International Conference on Historical Linguistics, July 27–31, 2015. The conference hosted a workshop on habituality and genericity from a diachronic perspective, convened and organized by the guest-editors of this special issue, Nora Boneh and Łukasz Jędrzejowski. We thank the organizers of the ICHL conference for their excellent preparation and administration of both the conference and workshop. We are also grateful to the participants of the workshop audience and speakers for their contributions, which have served as a basis for the current special issue. Last but not least, we are indebted to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticism and valuable suggestions. Thanks are also due to Cornelia Stroh for her editorial and technical support.



1st/2nd/3rd person


most agent-like argument of a transitive verb




contrast marking preposition


cotemporal (clause linkage)






emphatic particle
















most patient-like argument of a transitive verb








past tense


distant past


remote past


subject cross-reference series




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