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Title: Re: Prepositions: 'In' versus 'At'
Submitter: Richard Hallett
Description: 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
Date Posted: 18-Aug-2011
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
LL Issue: 22.3288
Posted: 18-Aug-2011

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