LINGUIST List 14.523

Thu Feb 20 2003

Review: Typology: Newman, ed. (2002)

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in.

If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Simin Karimi at


  • Yura Lander, The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying

    Message 1: The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying

    Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 19:18:43 +0000
    From: Yura Lander <>
    Subject: The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying

    Newman, John, ed. (2002) The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying. John Benjamins, hardback ISBN 90-272-2957-0 (Eur.) / 1-58811-204-7 (US), xii+409pp, Typological Studies in Language 51.

    Announced at

    Yury A. Lander, Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow

    In the Preface to ''The Linguistics of Giving'', Newman noted that giving ''compares, in its basicness, with other human behaviours such as walking, sitting, standing, talking, listening, touching, eating, drinking, feeding, sleeping, helping etc.'' (Newman 1998: viii). This list looked like a plan for future research, and ''The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying'' supports this hypothesis. Similar to Newman 1998, the present collection of papers provides a discussion of one of the most prominent (both in language and in human experience) lexical and semantic domains, in this case the domain of postures and postural expressions.


    The volume consists of a preface, 15 papers, and indexes of authors, languages and subjects.

    The role of an introduction is played by John Newman's informative ''A cross-linguistic overview of the posture verbs 'sit', 'stand', and 'lie''' (pp. 1-24), which partly sets the mood of most other papers (and not surprisingly is actively cited there). Newman's goal here is to describe typical (although certainly not indispensable) syntactic and semantic characteristics of posture verbs (e.g., stativity and intransitivity), and to show the ways in which the semantics and/or functions of basic verbs of posture can be further extended. Both formal characteristics of posture verbs and their possible semantic extensions are considered to be related to the basic experience of the postures.

    The second paper of the collection, namely ''Semantics and combinatorics of 'sit', 'stand', and 'lie' in Lao'' by N.J. Enfield (pp. 25-41) opens the core part of the volume, which is concerned with posture verbs in concrete languages. While discussing various syntactic constructions with Lao basic posture verbs and their possible interpretations (especially, in respect to the aspect), this paper is also an attempt to draw linguists' attention to the culture- and language-specific nature of the relevant linguistic phenomena.

    John Newman and Toshiko Yamaguchi in their ''Action and state interpretations of 'sit' in Japanese and English'' (pp. 43-59) compare the aspectual behavior of English SIT and its Japanese quasi-synonym SUWARU. Though it has been claimed that (unlike English) ''Japanese is a language where posture verbs are generally lexicalized in the 'getting into a state' type'' (Talmy 1985: 86) instead of being purely stative, the authors try to show that the inherent stativity of the sitting posture is well reflected not only in English but also in Japanese.

    The next paper is Sally Rice's ''Posture and existence predicates in Dene Suline (Chipewyan)'' (pp. 61-78). [For technical reasons, the name of the language is simplified here.] This is a collation of basic posture predicates of a certain Athapascan language according to various morphological, semantic and syntactic parameters. The comparison is intended to demonstrate that these predicates form ''experientally-based posture continuum'' 'stand'>'sit'>'lie' (the idea originally proposed in Newman's introductory paper).

    ''Posture verbs in two Tibeto-Burman languages of Nepal'' by Michael Noonan and Karen Grunow-Harsta (pp. 79-101) is devoted to the expression of postures in Chantyal and Magar. The data presented in this paper show that in spite of the fact that these two languages are genetically related and are spoken in the same area of Nepal, the means of expressing posture concepts in Chantyal and Magar are rather different, as different are requirements to the specification of postures and extensions of posture verbs.

    Maarten Lemmens (''The semantic network of Dutch posture verbs''; pp. 103-139) concentrates on the uses of the verbs ZITTEN 'to sit', LIGGEN 'to lie' and STAAN 'to stand' in Dutch. Lemmens distinguishes between manifold meanings of these verbs, which are all argued, however, to be based on ''image schematic abstractions based on an anthropocentric prototype'' (p. 132).

    Raquel Guiardello-Damian's ''The syntax and semantics of posture forms in Trumai'' (pp. 141-177) focuses on the semantics and syntax of ''Spatial Configuration forms'' in Trumai, a genetically isolated language spoken in Brazil. These lexical items, which include mainly posturals, turn out to be used not only as basic predicates but also as auxiliaries, yet without any considerable semantic bleaching.

    Some more grammaticalized uses of posture verbs are described in ''Men stand, women sit: On the grammaticalization of posture verbs in Papuan languages, its bodily basis and cultural correlates'' by Alan Rumsey (pp. 179-211). The author discusses in details data from two Papuan languages, namely Enga and Ku Waru. Both these languages display interesting oppositions between various existential verbs, some of which have also more specific posture meanings. While pointing out the differences and similarities between the systems under discussion and comparing Engu and Ku Waru with a number of other Papuan languages, Rumsey attempts to partly provide a rationale of these oppositions, linking them to semantic classifications of nominals and/or their referents.

    Cliff Goddard and Jean Harkins (''Posture, location, and states of being in two Central Australian languages; pp. 213-238) overview various constructions with (originally) posture verbs in Arrernte and two dialects of the Western Desert language. Interestingly, although the languages discussed in this paper employ some posture verbs in more or less the same functions (including highly grammaticalized ones, such as the copula function), they are different in which posture verbs are ''chosen'' for these functions.

    The Australian theme is continued by Nicholas Reid in his ''Sit right down the back: Serialized posture verbs in Ngan'gityemerri and other Northern Australian languages'' (pp. 239-267). This paper deals with grammaticalization of posture verbs into aspectual markers, which is accompanied by the appearance of new morphosyntactic patterns.

    Frantisek Lichtenberk (''Posture verbs in Oceanic''; pp. 269-314) gives a large amount of data concerning the functional spread of postural items observed in different Austronesian and pidgin languages of Oceania. On the basis of these data, Lichtenberk suggests a grammaticalization path POSTURE > LOCATIVE/EXISTENTIAL > ASPECTUAL thus generally conforming the results presented in Kuteva 1999.

    Turning now to Africa, ''The grammatical evolution of posture verbs in Kxoe'' by Christa Kilian-Hatz (pp. 315-331) elaborates the topic of the formation of a highly asymmetrical verbal system in one of the Khoisan languages. Kilian-Hatz tries to demonstrate that the unusualness of the verbal paradigm in Kxoe can be explained via different stages of grammaticalization of posture verbs.

    The development of posture items in another African language is discussed in John M. Keegan's ''Posture verbs in Mbay'' (pp. 333- 358). Posture verbs here form a separate formal class in that they have a phonological shape of grammatical formatives rather than lexical items. In addition to their uses in posture, existential and locative contexts, Mbay posturals have developed into aspectual auxiliaries and even gave rise to certain deictic adverbs and demonstratives. The semantics and behavior of posture verbs in this language is also compared with verbs of putting, taking and falling.

    Jae Jung Song (''The posture verbs in Korean: Basic and extended uses''; pp.359-385) speculates on the differences between Korean posturals as regards their ''extended uses''. In particular, it is shown that the Korean verb SE- 'stand' is used in much more contexts than the verbs meaning 'sit' and 'lie', although its distribution is still determined by some of its conceptual properties (mainly, verticality). Another interesting fact about Korean concerns the different grammaticalization potential of the vulgar and plain verbs 'lie' (of which, only the former has acquired certain aspectual functions).

    The collection is crowned with ''Embodied standing and the psychological semantics of STAND'' by Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. (pp. 387-400). Gibbs discusses the results of a psychological experiment devoted to the perception of the polysemy of English STAND, returning the reader to the initial hypothesis about the relations between human experience of postures and the semantics of posture expressions.


    No doubt, this project may look quite unusual - at least for those who are accustomed to volumes devoted either to some broad domain of linguistic phenomena or to a concrete phenomenon that nevertheless plays an important role in grammar. The topic of posturals was not considered usually to satisfy either of these criteria. Thus, for example, existential sentences were commonly studied independently of the original posture semantics of many existential predicates (see, for example, Verhaar 1967-1972, which can nevertheless be considered a predecessor of this volume). At the same time, as Newman points out, the basic lexical meaning of posturals ''might seem at first unremarkable on account of their apparent simplicity and may appear unworthy of close study'' (p. 21). Perhaps, an aim of ''The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying'' is to challenge this view by means of showing that posturals may play a considerable role in different domains of different languages.

    Two aspects of the posturals turn out to be in the center of the research reported in ''The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying'', these are their distribution among different contexts and the semantic extensions of posturals. The point discussed by most authors is that none of these is accidental, rather both are somehow related to the human experience of postures. The anthropocentric view on the semantics of posture verbs is not new, of course; it is well reflected, for example, in Talmy's (1985: 86) understanding of posturals as lexemes describing ''posture or orientations that are assumed by the human body or by objects treated as comparable to the body''. Following this view, it is natural to expect that many linguistic phenomena concerning posture expressions may be based on the cognitively relevant properties of postures. Unfortunately, it is not apparent why some properties of postures (or posture image schemas) . and not the others - appear to be cognitively relevant(the more so that this can vary from language to language) and how concrete contexts ''activate'' concrete properties. It seems to me that until no answers to these questions are given, the experientialist approach is able only to provide a kind of explanation but not a theory.

    In fact, there is at least one property that appears to be relevant cross-linguistically. As many papers of the volume show, basic posture expressions tend to be stative. I allege, however, that this is not related to the cognitive ''designing'' of posture situations exclusively. Rather stative predicates are linguistically more basic in general (this can be proved, for example, by investigating possible directions of derivation).

    The behavior of posture verbs might be expected to vary from language to language, since ''concrete'' lexical items are often language-specific. In general, many of the facts presented in this volume support this expectation. Some authors (e.g., Enfield, Rumsey) clearly show that certain uses of posture verbs may depend even on cultural notions. Further, it is perhaps not accidental that a large part of the volume is devoted to contrastive studies, since it is such studies that can shed light on what is indeed peculiar about different posturals.

    Still, given the assumption that the behavior of posturals is not accidental, it is not surprising that this volume also pretends to provide some cross-linguistic generalizations, the most striking of which concern the hierarchy of posturals and their development into existential verbs, copulas and aspect markers (cf. Devitt 1990; Austin 1998; Kuteva 1999; Maisak 2002). It comes as no surprise, however, that these generalizations appear to reflect only tendencies, and in fact a number of languages are described for which these do not work. Thus, for example, the grammaticalization path POSTURE > LOCATION > ASPECT (see Kuteva 1999), which is supported by Lichtenberk's paper but in fact seems to be already assumed by a number of other authors, turns out to be somewhat controversial, since developments of posturals into aspect markers without an intermediate location stage are observed as well (cf. Song's observations on Korean; see also Maisak 2002).

    Further, take the hierarchy of postures STAND > SIT > LIE, which is mentioned in several papers of the volume (Newman, Lichtenberk, Song) and serves as the main topic of the paper by Rice. This hierarchy manifests itself in a number of phenomena including, for example, the range of selectional restrictions (Song) or lexicalization potential (Noonan and Grunow-Harsta). Yet the value of the posture hierarchy remains unclear. In particular, this hierarchy does not seem to be based on markedness - unlike most other linguistic hierarchies (Croft 1990). Moreover, as the data presented in the volume show, the expressions of sitting are often more prominent in their distribution (e.g., in Dutch as Lemmens observes) and in their contextual extensions than the expressions of standing and lying. It has been argued that in some languages the real (semantic) opposition is that between verbs of sitting and standing, while verbs of sitting do not fall within a system (cf. Rakhilina 2000: 284-297 for Russian). Such situations obviously do not fit into the hierarchy of postures.

    Most authors are concerned (to some degree) with possible ''semantic extensions'', where ''semantic extensions'' include the uses of posturals in ''non-posture'' contexts - either as lexical or grammatical items. This mixing of the lexical and grammatical data may somewhat confuse the reader: for grammarians there is too much discussion of lexical semantics in this volume, while for lexical semanticians too much grammar is in focus. It should be said, however, that this mixing is naturally implied from the very idea of a discussion of such a topic. Further, this volume apparently shows the absence of precise borderlines between various functions of posturals, and hence the absence of borderlines between lexical and grammar uses.

    In spite of this, many authors try to demarcate between functions of posture items. For instance, Goddard and Harkins while discussing the various uses of posture verbs in two Australian languages insist on that ''each of the verb considered has a number of clearly separable, albeit inter-related, meanings'' (p. 236). Similarly, in a number of papers existential and locative uses of the items under discussion are separated from their ''basic'' posture functions as well as from each other. In some cases such ''singling out a meaning'' seems to be related more to the strategy of description, though, and this can create rather non-economical representations of the semantics of posturals - where the polysemy is perceived as being almost independent of the context. In fact, I suppose that much of semantic variation observed in respect to posturals could be accounted for if we consider the impact of context. For example, it seems to me that the distinction between posture, locative and existential uses depends on the topicality (animacy and definiteness) of an argument in that the less topical this argument is, the more the nuances of a postural's meaning are backgrounded (and sometimes even bleached); cf. Reid's observation that ''the literal usage of these verbs is essentially restricted to reference to higher animates, particularly humans, for it is only with these subjects that the capacity to contrast posture (...) has any real discourse significance'' (p. 245).

    To conclude, it seems to me that as for theoretical results, much more about the semantics and behavior of postures should be said more explicitly and formulated more precisely. Surely the authors cannot be blamed for this shortcoming of the volume, which is - importantly - an almost pioneering study. At the same time, ''The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying'' contains much interesting details that presumably cannot be found either in grammatical descriptions or in dictionaries, so it can serve as an important source itself - not only for those who study posture expressions but also for those who work on a great number of linguistic phenomena touched upon here, e.g., nominal classification, aspect, grammaticalization etc.


    Austin, Peter (1998) 'Crow is sitting chasing them' - Grammaticalisation and the verb 'to sit' in the Mantharta languages, Western Australia. In A. Siewierska & J.J. Song (eds.), Case, Typology and Grammar, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

    Croft, William (1990) Typology and Universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Devitt, Dan (1990) The diachronic development of semantics in copulas. In Proceedings of the 16th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistic Society.

    Kuteva, Tania A. (1999) On 'sit'/'stand'/'lie' auxiliation. Linguistics 32 (2), 191-213.

    Maisak, Timur A. (2002) Tipologija grammatikalizacii konstrukcij s glagolami dvizhenija i glagolami pozicii. [Grammaticalization paths of motion and posture verbs.] Ph.D Dissertation, Moscow State University.

    Newman, John, ed. (1998) The Linguistics of Giving. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

    Rakhilina, Ekaterina V. (2000) Kognitivnyj analiz predmetnyx imen. [A cognitive analysis of object nouns.] Moscow: Russkie slovari.

    Talmy, Leonard (1985) Lexicalization patterns: semantic structure in lexical forms. In T. Shopen (ed.), Language Typology and Syntactic Description, vol. III: Grammatical Categories and the Lexicon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Verhaar, John, ed. (1967-1972) The Verb 'Be' and Its Synonyms: Philosophical and Grammatical studies. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.


    Yury Lander is a research fellow in the Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow. His current interests include grammatical typology, semantics, Austronesian, Australian and Slavic linguistics.