A simple event description such as "The boy jumped" does not necessarily imply anything about the speaker's understanding of the cause of the event or of the volition of the agent. I can say "The boy jumped" and mean that he was caused to jump involuntarily (e.g. by a sudden noise), or that he jumped of his own volition for a specific purpose (e.g. to reach something), or that he jumped of his own volition but for no reason or cause I can see, etc. Are there languages that mark such differences with verbal morphology, in the way that some languages mark evidentiality (which seems like a similar type of category)?

I'm not asking about argument structure-changing operations like causative forms; I'm asking if there are languages that inflectionally contrast forms of the same verb, with the same argument structure, with morphs that might be glossed as e.g. "involuntary action", "purposive action", "unknown cause", etc.

  • I know causative is a linguistics term but is causative vs not causative really called causality? I've seen causal and causation - maybe that last term would work best as the general noun for this in linguistics? Oct 5, 2013 at 7:37
  • From reading the question body I don't think the wording in the title is accurate. If somebody makes you do something that's not any kind of volitional, so rather than talking about different kinds of volition I think you want to compare volitional and causal. (I do actually wonder if there are different kinds of volitional marked in a language now - but it seems not to be what you're asking about on this occasion.) Oct 5, 2013 at 7:40
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    @hippietrail I wasn't using "causality" to refer to causative vs. non-causative; that would be "causativity". Since volition and causation are pretty closely intertwined semantically, I'm asking about both, so I chose the wording in the title to reflect that.
    – TKR
    Oct 5, 2013 at 17:27

1 Answer 1


Sure. Lushootseed has two different object pronoun paradigms, depending on whether the action predicated was performed volitionally or not. For example:

  • ʔu-k̉ʷəɬ-əd-čəd tə-qʷu 'I poured the water'
    Narr-pour/spill-3DOVolit-1sAg Def-water
  • ʔu-k̉ʷəɬ-dxʷ-čəd tə-qʷu 'I spilled the water'
    Narr-pour/spill-3DONonvol-1sAg Def-water

and contrasting with the intransitive

  • ʔu-k̉ʷəɬ tə-qʷu 'the water spilled'
    Narr-pour/spill Def-water


  • ʔu-pus-uds-čəxʷ 'You threw something at me (and hit me)'

  • ʔu-pus-dubš-čəxʷ 'You threw something at me (and it happened to hit me)'


  • ʔu-kʷa-ad-čəd 'I dropped it'

  • ʔu-kʷa-dxʷ-čəd 'I dropped it'

  • Thanks! I had a feeling the languages of the Americas would come to the rescue.
    – TKR
    Oct 4, 2013 at 23:48
  • I'm pretty sure that Georgian and Japanese mark causation in their verb morphology too. Other languages seem to contrast what might be thought of as a marked "volitional" with an unmarked. Compare "I will" and "I shall" in the future - I think German is an even clearer example. Oct 5, 2013 at 7:42
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    The difference between pour and spill in English. Both are causative, but pour is volitional, while spill is nonvolitional.
    – jlawler
    Oct 5, 2013 at 14:45
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    Oh, I think that addendum is optional. The difference between I spilled the coffee in his lap and I poured the coffee in his lap is pretty straightforward.
    – jlawler
    Oct 5, 2013 at 14:50
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    Has anyone done a cross-linguistic survey of such volitionality/control marking systems? It would be interesting to see how both the categories themselves and the morphological means used to mark them might vary across languages.
    – TKR
    Oct 5, 2013 at 17:37

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