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LINGUIST List 22.3288

Thu Aug 18 2011

Disc: Re: Prepositions: 'In' versus 'At'

Editor for this issue: Elyssa Winzeler <elyssalinguistlist.org>


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        1.     Richard Hallett , Re: Prepositions: 'In' versus 'At'

Message 1: Re: Prepositions: 'In' versus 'At'
Date: 18-Aug-2011
From: Richard Hallett <R-Hallettneiu.edu>
Subject: Re: Prepositions: 'In' versus 'At'
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I’m glad that Linguist List has started this discussion. This summer my
colleagues and I here at Northeastern Illinois University are teaching a group
of Korean teachers of English, and recently I tried to explain this difference.

Years ago in an MA class in pedagogical grammar George Yule taught us to
think of prepositions of motion as being three dimensional, i.e. specific
points, lines/surfaces, and areas/volumes. Accordingly, ‘to’ worked with
points, ‘on’ with lines, and ‘in’ with areas. (He was quick to point out that this
classification system doesn’t begin to account for all the quirky variation in
English.) Consider how addresses work.

We live AT 5500 North St. Louis Avenue.
We live ON St. Louis Avenue.
We live IN Chicago.

Whether we use ‘at’ or ‘in(to)’ depends largely on our conceptualization of a
place. Consider the following variation.

The train came to Chicago.
The train came into Chicago.

I would argue that in the first example Chicago is considered a point on a
map, while in the second, Chicago is considered an area. This explanation
may explain the variation between meeting someone ‘at the airport’ vs.
meeting someone ‘in the airport’.

Moreover, ‘at’ refers to the edges of things:

We sat at the table.
The player swung at the ball.
The man kicked at the dog.

Note in the last example, the man didn’t make contact with the dog. (That
would be cruel.)

Anyway, I just wanted to write in when a few examples while they were still
fresh in my mind at this point in time.

Rick Hallett


Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis





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