The Actual World is Abnormal: On the Semantics of the Bylo Construction in Russian

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This paper investigates the interpretation of the modal particle bylo in Modern Russian. On the intuitive level, sentences in which this particle appears report events that do not proceed normally and fail to receive an expected continuation. For instance, the particle is appropriate in a context whereby an eventuality begins but fails to reach completion, is intended but fails to be realized, or reaches completion, but its result is annulled. The paper proposes an intensional analysis of the particle, making use of the notion of inertia worlds, worlds in which events are not interrupted and reach their normal completion (Dowty, Word and meaning in Montague grammar, 1979). The particle signals that an event that takes place in the actual world is followed by an eventuality of a certain type in all of the corresponding inertia worlds but not in reality. The bylo construction is further compared to the progressive aspect, which has been argued to involve a statement about inertia worlds. It is shown that the two phenomena describe eventualities from different perspectives but are unified by their intensional flavor, as well as by pointing to a distinction between the actual world and the inertia ones.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)57-84
Number of pages28
JournalLinguistics and Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2011


  • Aspect
  • Intensionality
  • Modality
  • Possible worlds
  • Progressive
  • Slavic linguistics

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language


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