Across languages, the imperfective is associated with three distinct readings-“event in progress”, “habitual or generic” and “continuous” with stative predicates. In Malayalam, the suffix unnu had been identified as the imperfective suffix in linguistic literature. However, it has been noted in subsequent studies that the “generic or habitual” reading with unnu is distinctly different from a typical generic reading and that such ‘typical generic’ readings are obtained by the modal um in Malayalam. This has also led to the claim that unnu is not an imperfective marker, but an iterative pluractional bundled with progressive aspect. This paper attempts to deal with this puzzle differently, arguing that unnu is a progressive marker in the process of becoming an imperfective in Malayalam. A description of the properties of unnu-sentences, contrasting them with sentences that use the progressive marker uka and sentences that use the modal/generic marker um, is attempted. The paper also explores the role of uND(ə), the existential copula, in obtaining habitual and episodic readings with unnu. This alternative account for unnu is shown to be supported by opinions of traditional grammarians in history as well as theories of grammaticalization in diachronic semantics. It is also hypothesized that this process is blocked or halted in Malayalam by a suffix devoted to generic constructions and previously unexplored in the literature.


Imperfective, Progressive, Grammaticalization, Genericity, Modality, Perfect,


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