LINGUIST List 25.2888

Thu Jul 10 2014

Review: Morphology; Syntax: Libert (2013)

Editor for this issue: Mateja Schuck <>

Date: 06-Mar-2014
From: Andrew Harvey <>
Subject: Adpositions and Other Parts of Speech
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Libert Alan Reed
TITLE: Adpositions and Other Parts of Speech
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Andrew David Thomas Harvey, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Libert’s “Adpositions and Other Parts of Speech” is a cross-linguistic review
of how a diverse range of scholars refer to words on “the border between
adpositions and some other parts of speech” (vii). Less about proposing
solutions than it is about underscoring difficulties and highlighting issues
for further investigation, the work addresses a broad scope of terms,
examining the context in which they are used, as well as the consistency with
which they are used. It consists of eight chapters, the contents of which are
listed below. Because of the various ways in which linguists have applied the
expressions which Libert examines, many subsections read like brief resumes of
how each linguist has come to understand that label in their particular
language of examination. As such, for each topic discussed, if there is no
consensus on how a term is employed cross-linguistically, I will list the
languages included in the discussion.

In Chapter 1: Introduction outlines, the book is outlined and some forms of
adpositions are exemplified and addressed. It is established that words
should be defined according to their functions (for example, words ‘used as’
adpositions, as well as adpositions which ‘are actually/really some other part
of speech’, should be referred to simply as adpositions). The use of the
terms ‘Fausses Prépositions, Fake Adpositions, and True Adpositions’ in
several Indo-European languages as well as Arabic is examined next. ‘Unechte
and Uneigentliche Adpositions’ are reviewed as labels for nouns and adverbs
used as prepositions. The inconsistency surrounding the use of the epithet
‘Quasi-Adpositions’ for certain deverbal prepositions is examined, followed by
an explanation of the labels ‘Semi-Adpositions’ and ‘Pseudo-Adpositions’ as
being reserved for verbs or adverbs which have not completely made the
transition to preposition (i.e. that have not fully lexicalized as
prepositions). The designation ‘So-Called Adpositions’, employed applied to
describe Yoruba and Lolo, is then examined, followed by ‘Adposition-Like
Words’ which is an expression reserved for cases when the boundaries between
word classes are fuzzy. ‘Other Terminology’ includes discussions of ‘impure
prepositions’, ‘marginal prepositions’, ‘equivalent to prepositions’, and
‘nominal prepositions’ and ‘verbal prepositions’ (and several variations of
the latter two), as well as Uyghur ‘role-shifted prepositions’ versus ‘proper
prepositions’. ‘Mental State Postpositions and Other Adpositions with Unusual
Semantics’ is a short exploration of adpositions which mark semantic roles
typically denoted by nouns, verbs, or adjectives.

Chapter 2: Adpositions and Nouns, examines the borderline between adpositions
and nouns. The problem of classification is illustrated with some comments
from Suutari (2006) on Mixtec, as well as an example from the Khoisan language
!Xun. ‘Adpositions in General as Nouns’ raises the issue of words which are
grammatically nouns in a language (e.g. Mongolian) being classified as
adpositions in grammars simply because they translate into English as
adpositions. ‘Some Adpositions as Nouns’ examines languages in which it has
been argued that some of the supposed adpositions are nouns, including
examples from Persian, Telugu, Ma’di, and Turkish, among others. The
following section examines ‘The Presence/Absence of Inflection as a
Criterion’, highlighting that, though invariability has been used as a method
of distinguishing adpositions from nouns, it is not an entirely satisfactory
way of doing so. Similarly, the presence of genitive case on complements is
also examined as a criterion, to similar effect, as “adpositions in different
languages assign different cases, […] as do some verbs” (40). Two further
measures are examined in ‘Other Criteria’: whether the word in general does or
does not have a corresponding noun, as well as semantic meaning type (as
proposed by Vajda 2004 for Ket). The next terms to be examined are
‘Pseudo-Postpositions’ in Chagatay, and ‘Substantive Adpositions’ in Welsh,
Twi, and Sinhala. ‘Noun-Like Adpositions’ in Uralic languages, Toqabaqita,
and Turkish are discussed, followed by ‘Adpositional Nouns’ in Seimat, Yakut,
Brahui, Berbice Dutch Creole, and Hausa. ‘Nominal Adpositions’ are reviewed
as they apply to Persian (specifically prepositions which are found with the
ezafe marker), and Hungarian. ‘Relator Nouns’ are discussed for Finnish,
Rabha, and Kurtöp, as well as Southeast Asian languages, which the literature
employs to refer to words sometimes called locational prepositions.
‘Relational Nouns’ as the label applies to Mam, Mangghuer, and Burushaski is
then examined. ‘Local Nouns, Locative Nouns, and Location(al) Nouns’ are then
discussed for Longgu, Basque, Ewe, Gújjolaay Eegimaa, and Tamangic, followed
by ‘Region(al) Nouns’ in Thai, Zapotec, ‘Spatial Nouns’ in Japanese, Khalaj,
and Basque, ‘Auxiliary Nouns’ in Altaic languages including Tuvan, Chuvash,
Bashkir, and Tatar. ‘Localizers’ apply to one word in Mandarin: ‘shang’,
described by Wu (2008) as the head of a locative phrase, LP.

Chapter 3: Adpositions and Verbs examines words on the border between
adpositions and verbs, which, given that both represent a relation, may
sometimes be fuzzy. The first section, ‘Debate on One Word of Chinese’,
underscores the ongoing discussion as to whether Mandarin adpositions are
adpositions or verbs. The word bei4 is a salient example, having been
classified variously as a preposition, a subject marker, a subordinate verb, a
matrix verb, or part of a compound verb. Following this, there is an
examination of ‘Prepositional Verbs’ as the expression applies to South Efate,
Pijin, and Namakir, the term ‘Verbal Adpositions’ as it applies to several
Oceanic languages and Bunaq, ‘Deverbal Prepositions’ in Lao and English, and
‘Verb-Like Prepositions’ are examined in Toqabaqita, Araki, and Chinese.
‘Verpositions’ is a label coined by Matisoff (1991) for “verb-derived
morphemes that have come to function like prepositions” (69) and examples are
given from Vietnamese, Thai, Mandarin, and Hmong. Discussion then moves to
‘Verbids’, employed by Ansre (1966) for Ewe and Lefebvre (1990) for Fon to
refer to lexical items distinct from verbs and heading locative and
instrumental phrases. Beermann et al. (2005), in their work on Ga consider
verbids to be verbs. Sanskrit ‘Prepositional Gerunds’ are then examined,
followed by ‘Serial Verbs’ in Lao, Northern Vietnamese, Titan, Tetun Dili, and
some spoken languages in Togo. Discussion then shifts from languages with
serial verbs (often lacking verbal inflection) to English ‘Participles’ which,
despite the fact they show inflection, may still exist in the blurry boundary
between verbs and prepositions. The chapter finishes with a brief discussion
of ‘Coverbs’ in Mandarin Chinese, Vietnamese, and Classical Chinese, and
‘Converbs’ with examples from Old Turkic, Sakha, and Karaim.

Chapter 4: Adpositions and Adjectives is a shorter chapter, discussing words
existing at the interface of adpositions and adjectives. Following the an
introduction, which establishes the issue by drawing on Turkish, and Punjabi,
the section ‘Transitive Adjectives’ focuses on whether words such as English
‘near’ in ‘near the river’ are prepositions or adjectives, examining criteria
including absence of PP complement, ability to appear in prenominal position,
as well as Pullum and Huddleston’s 2002 criterion of functioning as “an
adjunct in clause structure that is not in a predicative relation to the
subject” (85).

Chapter 5: Adpositions and Adverbs, deals with the intersection between
adpositions and adverbs, treating Lakhota, English, and Pali. In the first
section, ‘(In)transitivity’, the ability to take a complement as a criterion
for distinguishing adverbs from adpositions is discussed, with examples from
English, Attic Greek, and Hungarian. ‘Improper Prepositions’ as they apply to
Greek (Ancient and Modern) is then examined, specifically if they can or
cannot be classed as adverbs. Following this, ‘Adverbial Adpositions’ are
explored in Slovenian, Haitian Creole, Bislama, and Vedic Sanskrit, as well as
‘Adpositional Adverbs’ as the term applies to Vedic Sanskrit, English, and
Hungarian. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Ancient Greek
‘Preposition-Adverbs’, which is described diachronically as a word which
becomes a preposition in a later form of the language, but behaves as an
adverb, rather than a preposition.

Chapter 6: Adpositions and Conjunctions begins with the consideration that
these two word classes may, in fact, be one and the same. However, Cuyckens’
(1991) argument is that this is because, semantically, adpositions and
conjunctions behave similarly, and that if grammatical criteria are used
instead, a distinction between the two can be maintained. The first section:
‘Words Meaning ‘With’ as Conjunctions’ examines examples from Uyghur, Kyrgyz,
Turkish, Vaeakau-Taumako, Berbice Dutch Creole, and Upper Kuskokwim
Athabaskan. The second section, ‘Adpositions vs. Subordinating Conjunctions’,
discusses this difference with examples from English, German, and Korya
Chiini. ‘Clausal Postpositions and Other Terms’ concludes the chapter,
examining clausal postpositions in Ket, as well as sentence-prepositions in
Danish and Middle English, prepositional conjunctions and postpositional
conjunctions in Japanese.

Chapter 7: Adpositions and Pronouns, treats the so-called ‘inflected
prepositions’ of the Celtic languages. Examining Stewart and Joseph’s 2009
position that these words should be viewed as pronouns, Libert makes the
argument that if they are analyzed as prepositions 1) there is greater
morphological regularity across forms, and 2) it avoids the necessity of
positing case marking prefixes (an unlikely state of affairs).

Chapter 8: Conclusion, remarks on general themes that have emerged throughout
the work, including the absence of inflection being a problematic criterion
for determining adpositionhood, as well as using the word class of items
identical to the item under examination for adpositionhood: “an analysis which
refers to this property does not seem to allow for homonymy across word
classes, a phenomenon which clearly occurs […]” (115). The author closes with
the hopes that the work “will at least make it clearer what difficulties there
are […] and perhaps point the way towards possible solutions” (116).

‘Adpositions and Other Parts of Speech’ is a wide-ranging examination of
adposition and adposition-like words across a large number of languages and
families. The slim volume (135 pages) is a good source for those looking for
interesting morphosyntactic puzzles, especially if they are familiar with the
debates surrounding the assignment of words to part of speech categories. The
reader hoping for a basic, accessible definition of an adposition (either
formal or functional) had best look elsewhere.

At the root of this work is the proliferation of terms used to designate
similar, if not identical word classes or sub-classes, as well as terms which
may have come to mean different things for different language-specific
literature. Libert focuses specifically on adpositions or adposition-like
words across the discipline, examining where two different epithets are in
fact synonymous, as well as the various shades of meaning one label may have
gained for one language versus another. Drawing on reference grammars,
pedagogical grammars, and specialist research articles, Libert examines labels
from a plethora of works which span over 150 years and represent a vast array
of differing terminological traditions. This is consistent with Libert’s
findings: a trove of approximately 45 different labels for evaluation.

The choice to examine each term on its own and compare its uses across time
and contexts has its advantages and disadvantages. In presenting terms as
stand-alone entities, similarities in their usage can be brought to the fore.
As is quickly made clear, the meaning of labels was modified (expanded,
rendered more specific, or innovated) to suit the needs of the investigating
linguist as well as the language of examination, thus resulting in some terms
containing several quite different types of words. ‘Quasi-prepositions,’ for
example, represent either prepositions derived from other parts of speech, or
prepositions being formed with more than one word (pp.18-19). In addition,
words with similar functions were spread across several terms: ‘Unechte and
Uneigentliche adpositions’, for example, can be classed as ‘words used as
prepositions’. Because of this organizational decision, it is difficult for
the author to identify any criteria by which to characterize words as
adpositions versus other parts of speech. Libert has therefore created what
he refers to as an “anthology” (vii), to “let[ting] the thoughts of others
dominate, while offering some suggestions or criticisms” (ibid.).

As with the majority of the literature on parts of speech (see e.g. Schachter
and Shopen 1985, Trask 1999, and Pullum 1999) primacy is given to the
distributional (functional) criteria over morphological (formal) criteria,
though Libert establishes that without a clear role of the function(s) of
adpositions, applying distributional criteria will still be problematic.

To justify how part-of-speech categories are drawn, this work conceives words
as existing in traditional categories with firm boundaries. Given the current
popularity of the ‘prototypes’ model pioneered by Rosch (e.g. 1977), this is
somewhat less common than positing categories as continua upon which words lie
according to their similarities and differences to cognitively-designated
‘prototypes’. Though this option is identified in the 3 strategies for
dealing with items that do not fit into clear categories (p. 3), Libert makes
good use of the more absolute model throughout the work by pairing it with the
distributional maxim that: in a grammar which defines parts of speech
distributionally, words ‘used as’ adpositions must be adpositions. For
example, claims that languages such as Khmer have few ‘dedicated’
prepositions, but instead possess ‘syntactically polyfunctional’ words, are
countered by positing that “rather than saying that a word can be e.g. both a
verb and a preposition, stating that a verb has a homonymous preposition” via
zero-derivation (6-7). That is not to say that the work disregards nuance:
for example, Libert rejects Palmer’s (1967) claim that in the Cushitic
language Bilin, postpositions are actually nouns because they take genitival
complements. Given that “adpositions in different languages assign different
cases” (40), it is not viewed as a sufficiently robust criterion.

Throughout, Libert displays a keen eye for catching inconsistencies in others’
work: for example, it is noted that Crowley (2003:19) classifies the Bislama
word ‘antap’ as not a preposition, but “’an adverbial type of constituent’,
but later glosses it as ‘adv.prep.’ i.e. not ‘adv.’ or ‘prep’” (98). This
might make one wonder whether if, for Crowley, adverbial prepositions are a
class separate from both prepositions and from adverbs […]” (ibid.). Eckmann
(1966) is observed in his ‘Chagatay Manual’ referring to ‘ara’ and ‘qoyï’ as
true prepositions, but then as pseudo-prepositions in the following section
(42). Such attention to detail often helps evaluate the rigor with which the
various criteria are being applied.

As detailed as this work is, one can be frustrated by the author’s tendency to
provide untranslated quotations in several languages throughout. The
placement of long blocks of text in German and French renders some of Libert’s
arguments inaccessible to some readers. It is also a shame that a language
index was not included.

On page 65 (paragraph 2), ‘contruction’ should be ‘construction’.

‘Adpositions and Other Parts of Speech’ is the first book to treat the
distinction between adpositions and other parts of speech (nouns, verbs,
adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, and pronouns) at length. Its goals are
threefold: raising salient examples of fuzzy part-of-speech boundaries;
exploring the various criteria used to determine adpositionhood; and
underscoring the need for a functional notion of the adposition. These goals
have largely been met in this book, with every subsection introducing,
elaborating on, and providing key instances of a ‘blurry’ case of categorial
assignment to a word or set of words: fantastic theoretical challenges to
syntacticians, lexicographers, and other specialists interested in
part-of-speech assignment. The various criteria for adpositionhood are
examined throughout, running as themes along the way. The necessary brevity
with which each topic is treated (usually providing data from just a handful
of prudently-selected languages at most) practically begs comparative
linguists to search for analogs within other languages and language families.

Ansre, G. (1966) The Verbid -- A Caveat to ‘Serial Verbs’. “Journal of West
African Languages” 3.1 pp. 29-32.

Beermann, D., J. Brindle, L. Hellan, S. Tedla, F. Bagiya, J. Furberg, Y. Otoo,
and M.E.K. Dakubu (2005) A Comparison of Comparisons. In M. Butt and T.H. King
eds., “Proceedings of the LFG 05 Conference” pp. 42-63. CSLI Publications,

Crowley, T. (2003) “A New Bislama Dictionary” (2nd Edition). Institute of
Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, Suava, Fiji, and Pacific
Languages Unit, University of the South Pacific, Vila, Vanuatu.

Cuyckens, H. (1991) Prepositions as a Part of Speech. “Linguistica
Antverpiensia” 25 pp. 107-127.

Eckmann, J. (1966) “Chagatay Manual”. Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.

Huddleston, R. and Geoffrey Pullum (2002) Adjectives and Adverbs. In R.
Huddleston and G. Pullum, “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language”, pp.
525-595. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Lefebvre, C. (1990) Establishing a Syntactic Category of P in Fon. “Journal of
West African Languages” 20.1 pp. 45-63. Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Matisoff, J.A. (1991) Areal and Universal Dimensions of Grammaticalization in
Lahu. In E.C. Traugott and B. Heine eds. “Approaches to Grammaticalizaton” 2
pp. 383-453. John Benjamins, Amsterdam.

Pullum, G. (1999) Linguistic Categories. In “A Concise Encyclopedia of Parts
of Speech” (Brown, K. and Miller, J. eds.) pp. 66-70. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Rosch, E. (1977) Human Categorization. In Cognition and Categorization
(Rosch, E; and Lloyd, B.B. eds.), “Annual Review of Psychology” 32 pp. 1-72.
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Schachter, P. and T. Shopen (1985) Parts-of-speech systems. In “Language
Typology and Syntactic Description”. (Shopen, T., ed.) 1 pp. 3-61. Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge.

Stewart, T.W., Jr. and B.D. Joseph (2009) How Big Can Case Systems Get?
Evidence from Scottish Gaelic. In “Word Structure” 2.1 pp. 108-120. Edinburgh
University Press, Edinburgh.

Suutari, T. (2006) “Body Part Names and Grammaticalization” in M.-L. Helasvuo
and L. Campbell, eds. “Grammar from the Human Perspective” pp. 283-299. John
Benjamins, Amsterdam.

Trask, R.L. (1999) Parts of speech. In “A Concise Encyclopedia of Parts of
(Brown, K. and Miller, J., eds.) pp. 278-284. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Vajda, E.J. (2004) “Ket.” Lincom Europa, Munich.

Wu, H.I. (2008) “Generalized Inversion and the Theory of Agree.” Ph.D.
dissertation, MIT.

Andrew Harvey (BA (Hons.) French, Linguistics, Memorial University of
Newfoundland 2011; MA Linguistics, University of Dar es Salaam 2013) is a
field linguist with interests in field methods, lexicography and corpus
design, grammar writing, and the minimalist programme. Principal investigator
of the documentation and description of Gorwaá (South Cushitic, Afro-Asiatic),
his MA dissertation, titled ‘The Parts of Speech of Gorwaá: Toward a
Description of the Gorwaá Language” was the first academic work to treat
Gorwaá. He plans to pursue doctoral studies at the School of Oriental and
African Studies in 2014, returning to Tanzania in 2015 to further document

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