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Query Details

Query Subject:   Prepositions:functional uses
Author:   Andrew McIntyre
Submitter Email:  click here to access email

Linguistic LingField(s):  Syntax
Subject Language(s):  English

Query:   Tue, 23 Feb 1999 17:44:44 +0000
Prepositions:functional uses

Dear Linguists,

I wish to understand 'functional' uses of
prepositions like these:

(1) They are at/in church
(2) Gwen is on the bus.
(3) *Basil is at his desk cleaning it.
(4) Il est a son bureau/dans son bureau. (French)

In (1),the articleless construction implies that the church is being
used as a place of worship. In (2) Gwen is understood to be using the
bus as a means of transport while (3) is bad because the prep. wrongly
implies that the purpose of the desk is being fulfilled. These
observations do not apply if respectively 'in' and 'near' are
substituted in (2) and (3). In (4) 'a' ('at) implies he is working
while 'dans' ('in') implies mere physical presence in the office. It
is typical that functional uses of prepositions disregard or defocus
the dimensional properties of the reference object, cf. (2, 4). My
questions are:

(A) Treatments of such constructions are to my knowledge excessively
brief (e.g. in Becker et al 1988; Cienki 1989; Cuyckens 1994,
Herskovits 1986, Jackendoff/Landau 1992, Wesche 1987, Pustejovsky 1995
(full refs. in my summary)). Has anyone written more than a page on
these phenomena?

(B) Similar data appear in other languages, (e.g. German, Russian). I
would be grateful if anyone could (mention sources which) supply
examples from other languages (esp. non- Indoeuropean). I am
especially interested in languages with expressions with literal
glosses like 'the hat is IN her head', 'the food is IN the table'
(vs. 'the hat is ON the table') or with a locative adposition/case
which refers to either the interior or the immediate proximal region
of an object and which allows functional readings.

(C) Are there varieties of English where 'get OFF the bus' has a
functional reading (cf. (2)) whilst 'get OFF OF the bus' would mean
'get down from the roof of the bus'.

(D) Is there any good literature on the syntax or semantics of bare
P-N structures as in (1)? (Related examples: 'in school, in bed, on
ice, in store, by bus', German 'bei Tisch, auf Lager', French 'en
avion, en voiture' etc.) How can these constructions come about
diachronically, esp. in a language like French where articleless
constructions are rare? Should I generate them in the lexicon where
they are productive?

Many thanks,

Dr. Andrew McIntyre
Institut fuer Anglistik,
Universitaet Leipzig
Particle Verb Project homepage:
Tel (home): 0341-983 0602 (from Australia:001149-341 983 0602)
Tel (work): 0341-9737 328 (from Australia:001149-341 9 7373 28)
Fax: 0341-9737 329
Adresse: Shakespearestr. 3
04107 Leipzig
LL Issue: 10.301
Date posted: 23-Feb-1999


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