Ash Asudeh at LEL seminar

Posted on April 17, 2023 by

This Tuesday, 18th April 2023, we will welcome Ash Asudeh (University of Rochester) to the LEL seminar series. His talk will be on the syntax and semantics of Persian modals. The talk will take place online on zoom, starting at 4pm.

The syntax and semantics of Persian modality and perception 

Ash Asudeh 

(Joint work with Setayesh Dashti, Oxford, and Siavash Rafiee Rad, Leiden) 

University of Rochester 

Persian is an SOV Indo-European language with “pro-drop”. Verbal morphology follows a two-stem system, traditionally called present (e.g., xor ‘eat’) and past stems (e.g., xord ‘eat’). Modulo suppletive patterns, the past stem is regularly marked with -d and its allomorphs. There is no overt present tense marker. The present stem generally occurs with either aspectual or mood markers (there are lexical exceptions); mi- for imperfective aspect (1a) and be- for subjunctive mood (1b). The unprefixed past stem with agreement suffixes is used to show the perfective aspect (1c). Past imperfective, progressive and perfect are also derived from the past stem with agreement suffixes; for example, past imperfective (durative or past habitual; usually contextually disambiguated) is formed with the same prefix as present imperfective, mi- (1d). 

(1) a.  Nika be madrese mi-rav-ad.  

Nika to school  IPFV-go.PRES-3SG 

‘Nika goes to school.’ 

    b. Nika šāyad be madrese be-rav-ad. 

Nika may   to school  SBJV-go.PRES-3SG 

‘Nika might go to school.’  

    c. Nika be madrese raf-t. 

Nika to school  go-PAST.3SG 

  ‘Nika went to school.’ 

    d. bače-hā  har   ruz be madrese mi-raf-t-and.   

child-PL every day to school  IPFV-go-PAST-3PL 

‘The kids used to go to school every day.’ 

While Persian contains several adverbial and complex predicate modals, there are two main simplex verbal modal auxiliaries: bāyestan (necessity) and šodan (possibility). These modals always appear in the default third person singular form: bāyad (nec.PRES)/bāyest (nec.PAST) and mi-še (IPFV-poss.PRES)/mi-šod (IPFV-poss.PAST). They can either occur with: 1. a finite complement (2), marked with subjunctive mood in present tense (2a) or imperfective aspect in past tense (2b); or 2. a non-finite complement (3). In the latter case, the non-finite complement has a simple past stem, which resembles the third person singular past inflection, and is historically an “apocopated infinitive” (short infinitive); it is interpreted as an impersonal (3). 

(2) a. bāyad    be xune be-rav-am. 

nec.PRES to home SBJV-go.PRES-3SG 

‘I have to go home.’ 

    b. bāyad    bače-hā  be xune mi-raf-t-and. 

nec.PRES child-PL to home IPFV-go-PAST-3PL 

‘The children had to go home.’ 

(3)  bāyad zood be xune raf-t. 

PRES early to home go-PAST.3SG 

‘It’s necessary to go home early.’/’One must go home early.’ 

When the modal occurs with a finite complement, it is possible to topicalize the embedded subject to the left of the modal: 

(4) a. bāyad    bače-hā  be xune mi-raf-t-and.     (=2b) 

nec.PRES child-PL to home IPFV-go-PAST-3PL  

‘The children had to go home.’ 

    b. bače-hā  bāyad    be xune mi-raf-t-and. 

child-PL nec.PRES to home IPFV-go-PAST-3PL  

‘The children had to go home.’ 

A major class of other simplex/complex predicates in Persian distribute syntactically similarly to the simplex verbal modals above, although their semantic function is to denote various kinds of perceptual relations, not sentential necessity or possibility operators. (5) exemplifies the aural paradigm, which has both complex (5a,c) and simplex (5b) cells.  

(5) a. Active <ACTOR,STIMULUS> 

guš kard-an 

ear do-INF 

X listen to Y 

    b. Experiencer <EXPERIENCER,STIMULUS 



X hear Y 


sedāh dād-an 

sound give-INF 

Y emitted a sound (to X) 

A verb that works very similarly to the perception paradigm is be nazar āmad-an (to opinion come-INF), which is the equivalent of seem. Unlike bāyad (necessity), which never inflects for agreement, some speakers allow both forms below (all allow the first): 

(6) a. bače-hā  be nazar   mi-ā-d       ke   xaste šo-d-an. 

child-PL to opinion IPFV-come.PRES-3SG that tired become-PAST-3PL  

‘The children seem to have gone home.’ 

    b. %bače-hā  be nazar   mi-ā-n            ke   xaste šo-d-an. 

child-PL to opinion IPFV-come.PRES-3PL that tired become-PAST-3PL   

‘The children seem to have gone home.’ 

Note that the register reported in (6) is spoken/colloquial Persian. 


1. How should we account for the complement in (3)? Is it a past tense form or a short infinitive (synchronically as well as diachronically)? 

2. How can we capture the impersonal and non-impersonal readings of modals like (3) vs. (2)? 

3. What is the syntactic structure of simplex modal constructions? 

4. How should the variable agreement displayed in (6) be explained? 

5. How can we give a consistent semantics for (the relevant) Persian light verbs that covers their uses in both perceptual constructions like (5), and possibly (6), as well as their uses in physical contexts?  

The analysis is cast in LFG with Glue Semantics. We build on previous LFG and non-LFG work on modals and complex predicates, as well as work by Andrew Koontz-Garboden, John Beavers, and collaborators, on the lexical semantics of key verbal relations.