LINGUIST List 15.2038

Fri Jul 9 2004

Review: Historical Ling/Semantics: Luraghi (2003)

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  1. Stavros Skopeteas, On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases

Message 1: On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases

Date: Thu, 8 Jul 2004 04:41:13 +0200
From: Stavros Skopeteas <>
Subject: On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases

AUTHOR: Luraghi, Silvia
TITLE: On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases
SUBTITLE: The expression of semantic roles in Ancient Greek
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2003
Announced at

Stavros Skopeteas, University of Potsdam


The book deals with the semantics of prepositions and cases in Ancient
Greek. Next to linguists working on Greek, the book is intended for a
broader audience of semanticists, historical linguists, and
typologists who are interested in the theoretical aspects of
preposition and case semantics. In order to reach linguists who are
not necessarily specialized in Greek, the book provides detailed
morphological transcriptions of the cited Greek examples.


After discussing the main objectives of the book, the introduction
gives an overview of the available data from Ancient Greek and
presents the typological profile of the language. The investigated
corpus is discussed in more detail: it includes the Homeric poems,
Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle, covering thus the
development from Early Ionic to Classical Attic of the 4th century
BC. In addition to the main corpus, some parallel sources that are
mentioned in the book without being treated in full account (orators,
Aristophanes, Xenophon, and later works) are also briefly introduced

Chapter 1 ''Theoretical Foundations'' sets out the concepts of lexical
semantics used in the further analysis. In general, the book follows
the Cognitive Grammar approach (cf. Langacker 1987, etc.). The main
theoretical assumptions are synopsized as follows:

* Grammatical elements are conceived as meaningful.
* Lexical forms are polysemous in isolation. 
* Specific meanings of polysemous elements are 'activated' in certain
* Individual meanings of the same element are related through rules of
semantic extension (metaphor, metonymy).

The individual meanings of the same element are represented in mental
maps, i.e. figures containing the meanings linked through lines/arrows
which represent the paths of semantic extension among them. The next
subsection of this chapter provides an overview of the semantic roles
used for the description of prepositions and cases: spatial relations
(location, direction, source, path, etc.), time relations, comitative,
agent, instrument, cause, recipient, beneficiary, experiencer,
possessor, purpose, patient, manner, and area.

Chapter 2 ''Semantics of Greek Cases'' outlines the functions of those
cases that occur with prepositions in Greek, namely genitive, dative,
and accusative. The first part of the chapter summarizes the
diachronic processes of syncretism that led to the Ancient Greek case
system (genitive/ablative > genitive, dative/locative/instrumental >
dative). The second part discusses the syntax and semantics of
oblique cases focussing on those aspects that are relevant for the
analysis of 'preposition and case' combinations in chapter 3:

* Accusative, genitive, and dative NPs occur as verb complements (and
may be passivized).
* The cases bear also local meanings: dative of stationary location,
ablatival genitive, accusative of direction. The occurrence of these
meanings with plain cases is very limited, since the cases in their
use as spatial relators are reinforced by prepositions.
* A significant part of the discussion on case semantics is devoted to
the partitive genitive: The syntactic peculiarity of this case is that
it does not encode the relation of a dependent noun to its head (like
other cases do), but rather functions as a specifier, indicating if
the participant is totally or partially involved in the state of

Chapter 3 ''Greek Prepositions'' is the main part of the descriptive
study, covering the two-third of the volume. The prepositions dealt
with in this chapter are the so-called 'proper prepositions' in
Ancient Greek Grammars, i.e. the elements that occur as prepositions
and as preverbs. The introductory section discusses the problem of the
syntactic-categorial status of these elements, namely if they govern
or modify the accompanying NP, and accordingly if they function as
prepositions or adverbs. The main part of the chapter is organized in
18 sections, each devoted to a proper preposition: _en_ 'in', _ek/ex_
'out of', _eis_ 'to', _ap�_ 'from', _par�_ 'by', _s�n/x�n_ 'with',
_pr�_ 'before', _ant�_ 'instead of', _di�_ 'through', _an�_ 'up',
_kat�_ 'down', _hup�r_ 'over', _hup�_ 'under', _met�_ 'after/among',
_amph�_ 'around', _per�_ 'about', _pr�s_ 'toward', and _ep�_ 'on'.
These sections contain an introductory paragraph that gives a brief
account of the etymology of the particle and its properties as adverb
and preverb. The main part is a detailed treatment of the
prepositional use. The individual meanings of each preposition with
each case are identified in the corpus, starting with Homer and
proceeding to the later authors of the sample. The analysis proceeds
with establishing rules of semantic extension on the basis of the
empirical data, which are often presented in terms of mental maps at
the end of the section.

The descriptive work is based on the collection and discussion of
examples from the text sample. Semantic properties are identified
through the contexts in which a preposition occurs. By drawing
inferences from several occurrences in corpus the author identifies
the meaning(s) of each preposition, revises previous approaches, and
compares the semantics of related or opposed prepositions (see e.g.
_ek_ 'out of' vs. _ap�_ 'from' in p. 97) or of the different cases
with the same preposition (see e.g. _ep�_ 'on' with dative and
genitive in p. 302f.).

After the identification of individual meanings the analysis proceeds
with the relations among them. The meanings are related through
semantic extension which is either diachronically attested (in cases
of meanings that appear after Homer) or assumed on the basis of
different kinds of evidence: e.g. limited frequency is used as an
argument for the recent development of _met�_ 'after/among' with
genitive in Homer (p. 245); the usual paths of semantic extension
support the otherwise non-provable claim about the spatial origin of
_ant�_ 'instead of' (p. 165). Several patterns of semantic extension
are investigated with respect to different prepositions. The typical
metaphors from 'space' to 'time' and to more abstract relations occur
in many prepositions. In addition, some challenging cases for the
uni-directionality hypothesis of this change also occur, e.g. the
development of _met�_ 'after/among' from 'time' to 'space' (p. 155).

The rationale of the metaphoric extension is often postulated through
schematic principles: e.g. from 'destination' to 'purpose' through the
principle ''PURPOSES ARE DESTINATIONS'' (with respect to _eis_ 'to' in
p. 110), from 'comitative' to 'instrument' through the principle ''AN
INSTRUMENT IS A COMPANION'' (with respect to _s�n_ 'with' in p. 148),
from the spatial relation 'path' to 'intermediary' through the
INTENTIONALITY'' (with respect to _di�_ 'through' in p. 179). The
description of these metaphors in Greek is in many cases accompanied
by a discussion of the respective literature on similar phenomena in
other languages, especially within the framework of Cognitive Grammar
or further studies in lexical semantics (see e.g. the discussion on
models for containment introduced by Vandeloise 1994, on the occasion
of the semantics of Greek _en_ 'in' in p. 84f.).

Semantic extension is sometimes considered as originating in logical
inferences; e.g. the extension from 'on both sides' to 'all around' in
the case of _amph�_ 'around' is interpreted as follows: ''if ones
refers to both sides of an object, one implies that the object only
has two sides so that 'both sides' comes to mean 'all sides'''
(p. 256). In language change, the second meaning may evolve as a
reinterpretation of the first one ~V indeed this change is attested
for the preposition _amph�_ 'around'.

The semantic representations are mental maps, that summarize the
meanings encoded through the same element, i.e. the same preposition.
The individual meanings are linked through lines, that represent the
path of semantic extension among them (see e.g. p. 106 for _ek_ 'out
of', p. 130 for _ap�_ 'from', p. 164 for _pr�_ 'before', p. 250 for
_met�_ 'after/among' and accusative, p. 273 for _per�_ 'about', p. 297
for _pr�s_ 'toward', and p. 302 for _ep�_ 'on'). In some cases arrows
are used instead of lines that visualize the additional information of
the direction of the semantic extension (see e.g. p. 213 for _kat�_
'down', p. 267 for _amph�_ 'around', and p. 292 for _pr�s_ 'toward'
and genitive). A very interesting point concerning the use of mental
maps is the occurrence of prepositions that display identical meanings
but differ with respect to the way these meanings are linked in the
semantic network. Such a case is illustrated in the comparison of the
mental maps for _ap�_ 'from' (p. 130) and _ek_ 'out of' (p. 106). Both
prepositions share five common meanings: 'time', 'source', 'cause',
'origin', 'agent'. The mental maps of these prepositions differ as to
the paths of semantic extension among the otherwise identical
meanings. In the case of _ap�_ 'from', 'cause' evolves out of the
spatial meaning 'source', whereas in the case of _ek_ 'out of' the
same meaning 'source' is first extended to 'time', and the latter is
extended to 'cause' (see p. 130 for discussion).

Some schematic figures are used as well, especially to illustrate
spatial meanings; see e.g. the use of _par�_ 'by' with accusative
illustrated in its occurrence with multiplex and with uniplex
landmarks (p. 138), or a figure representing different trajectories
that are encoded through _di�_ 'through' (p. 171), or the comparison
between spatial configurations denoted by _hup�_ + dative and _kat�_ +
genitive (p. 200). These illustrations represent the principal
properties of the landmark and the trajector, and in cases of motion
the trajectory along which the trajector moves. These figures are not
highly formalized, but they convey comprehensively the spatial
configurations they stand for.

Chapter 4 presents the conclusions of the book. The first section
summarizes the meanings of individual prepositions as presented in
Chapter 3, considering mainly the spatial uses and the opposition of
cases. The conclusion is that PPs 'whose internal structure is simpler
are more stable', i.e. prepositions which do not combine with several
cases undergo less semantic change. The next section deals with the
non-spatial meanings of prepositions from the point of view of the
encoded semantic roles (time, comitative, agent, instrument,
intermediary, cause, recipient/addressee, beneficiary, possessor,
purpose, and area) and gives a summary of the described paths of
semantic extension. The third section of the conclusion summarizes the
results about the use of prepositional cases and the last section
gives a brief overview of the further development of Greek
prepositions in the post-classical era.

One of the most interesting generalizations of the book, which is
discussed in several sections in Chapter 3 and summarized in the
conclusion, is the decomposition of case semantics in the different
'prepositions and case' combinations. The use of different cases
within PPs is analysed as a manifold opposition:

Genitive, dative and accusative are opposed as to the encoding of
different spatial relations:

* genitive = source
* dative = stationary location
* accusative = direction

Genitive and accusative are opposed with respect to the internal
structure of the landmark:

* genitive = discontinuous landmark
* accusative = continuous landmark

A further opposition, which occurs with many prepositions in Homer, is
the one between dative and accusative for the distinction of +/-
contact to the landmark (dative encodes contact and accusative encodes
lack of contact).

>From the point of view of Greek linguistics, the book offers a
thorough descriptive work in a characteristic domain of the Ancient
Greek syntax, the preposition and case constructions. Among the many
genuine points of the empirical work, the innovative approach to the
striking problem of the decomposition of case semantics within PPs
(mentioned above), has to be emphasized here.

As a study in lexical semantics, a special merit of the book is the
investigation of semantic extension on the basis of diachronic
evidence. Defining the direction of semantic extension is an essential
problem for synchronic studies, which is often solved on the basis of
linguistic intuition. The directional character of semantic extension
is here substantiated through the diachronic evidence. Another
important contribution of the book is of course that it provides with
a long inventory of prepositional meanings covering several concrete
and abstract roles as well as specifying properties of the landmark
such as animacy, plexity, etc. The individual meanings are related in
different interesting ways, either opposed through the case
alternation or co- occurring in the same preposition and case
construction and linked by semantic extension.

Langacker, Ronald 1987, _Foundations of cognitive grammar_, vol. 1.
Stanford: University Press

Vandeloise, Claude 1994, ''Methodology and analysis of the preposition
_in_''. _Cognitive Linguistics_ 5.2, 157-184

Stavros Skopeteas (University of Potsdam) is interested in language
typology and historical linguistics. His Ph.D. dissertation (''Spatial
constructions in Greek: Language change in functional perspective'',
2003, University of Erfurt) contains a functional-typological
description of spatial relators (adpositions, adverbs, motion verbs)
in the history of Greek.
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