In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • On subjunctive clauses and irrealis mood in Persian
  • Negin Ilkhanipour

1. Introduction

The realis/irrealis distinction and its overt realization in different languages have been widely investigated in the literature (Chafe 1995; Mithun 1995, 1999; Bybee 1998; Palmer 2001; Plungian 2005; Portner 2009; de Hann 2012, to name a few).

Examining the formal correspondence between irrealis and subjunctive mood, the present article aims to show, (contra Darzi and Kwak 2015), that while irrealis is not necessarily realized in the subjunctive form, the subjunctive form necessarily implicates the irrealis value of the irrealis mood projection (MoodirrealisP) in Persian.

With this objective in view, the structure of this short contribution is as follows. Section 2 presents a brief review of the various definitions of irrealis mood and its different morpho-syntactic realizations across languages. Section 3 deals with the distribution of subjunctive in Persian, including matrix and subordinate clauses, and suggests that all subjunctive clauses in Persian are interpreted as irrealis in the Conceptual-Intentional (C-I) system. Section 4 argues against Darzi and Kwak’s (2015) claim that the irrealis analysis of subjunctive in Persian is not tenable.

2. What is irrealis?

Chafe (1995) considers realis/irrealis to be a cognitive distinction determined by how the speaker’s ideas accord with what s/he believes to be objective reality. According to Chafe, the sentences in (1) are interpreted as realis because they express the speaker’s direct perception of states or events, whereas the sentences in (2), describing states or events constructed only in the speaker’s imagination, are interpreted as irrealis.1 [End Page 100]


past states I had a toothache.
past perfective events I got the car fixed.
present states Ive got a toothache.
present imperfective events The cars getting fixed.
(Chafe 1995: 350, (1))


yes-no questions Did you get the car fixed?
negations I didnt get the car fixed.
futures Im going to get the car fixed.
necessities I need to get the car fixed.
possibilities I might get the car fixed.
imperatives Get the car fixed.
prohibitions Dont get the car fixed.
conditions If I get the car fixed
(Chafe 1995: 350, (2))

In line with Chafe (1995), Mithun (1995: 368, 1999: 173) defines realis as portraying situations actualized or actually occurring, knowable through experience or direct perception, and irrealis as portraying situations as purely within the realm of thought, knowable only through imagination. Contra Chafe, however, Bybee (1998: 267–268) argues that the function of modal categories is discourse-oriented and that the realis/irrealis distinction should be determined based on the speaker’s asserting, or not asserting, the truth of the proposition.

In the cartographic approach to syntactic structure, Cinque (1999: 73, 88) regards irrealis mood as indicating that the speaker does not know the truth or falsity of the proposition. In his account, every functional head appears with a default (unmarked) or marked value. For Moodirrealis, [realis] and [irrealis] are the default and marked values, respectively (Cinque 1999: 129). Thus, syntactically speaking, the Moodirrealis projection is where the realis/irrealis distinction is encoded. Further, in the cartography of syntactic structure, every functional head has a specific semantic interpretation that encodes some cognitive concept (Cinque 1999: 132, 2013: 51–52). Chafe’s, Mithun’s and Bybee’s definitions of (ir)realis contain the semantic and pragmatic concepts that can be considered as the interpretive content to be syntacticized in the irrealis mood projection.

In this study, realis and irrealis are defined as in (3), an amalgam of the above-mentioned factors.


a. Realis is the default value of the Moodirrealis projection that at the C-I system, interprets the state or event as asserted to be actualized or actually occurring in the base world at the reference time.

b. Irrealis is the marked value of the Moodirrealis projection that at the C-I system, interprets the state or event as not asserted to be actualized or actually occurring in the base world at the reference time.

By “assert” I mean the representative type of speech act which is different from directives, expressives, commissives and declarations (see Searle 1976...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 100-111
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.