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Review of  Prepositions in their Syntactic, Semantic and Pragmatic Context


Reviewer: Stavros Skopeteas
Book Title: Prepositions in their Syntactic, Semantic and Pragmatic Context
Book Author: Susanne Feigenbaum Dennis Kurzon
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Typology
Book Announcement: 14.436

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Date: Sun, 09 Feb 2003 22:51:32 +0100
From: Stavros Skopeteas <stavros.skopeteas@uni-erfurt.de>
Subject: Review: Prepositions in their Syntactic, Semantic and Pragmatic Context

Feigenbaum, Susanne and Dennis Kurzon (2002), Prepositions in their Syntactic,
Semantic and Pragmatic Context
Series Title: Typological Studies in Language 50, John Benjamins,
http://www.benjamins.com/
http://www.benjamins.nl

Hardback: ISBN: 1588111725, Pages: vi, 304 pp., Price: USD 90.00
Hardback: ISBN: 9027229562, Pages: vi, 304 pp., Price: EUR 100.00

Reviewed by St. Skopeteas, University of Erfurt, Germany


Abstract:

The growing interest in prepositions is reflected by this impressive
collection of papers from leading scholars of various fields. The
selected contributions of Prepositions in their Syntactic, Semantic
and Pragmatic Context focus on the local and temporal semantics of
prepositions in relation to their context, too. Following an
introduction which puts this new approach into a thematical and
historical perspective, the volume presents fifteen studies in the
following areas: The semantics of space dynamics (mainly on French
prepositions); Language acquisition (aphasia and code-switching);
Artificial intelligence (mainly of English prepositions); Specific
languages: Hebrew (from a number of perspectives -- syntax, semiotics,
and sociolinguistic impact on morphology), Maltese, the Melanesian
English-based Creole Bislama, and Biblical translations into
Judeo-Greek.

*****************************************

Article 1.
Title: Instability and the theory of semantic forms: Starting from the
case of prepositions
Author(s) : Yves-Marie Visetti and Pierre Cadiot, Pages : 9-39

This article formulates a global semantic theory. The framework
presented is based on Gestalt and phenomenological theories of
perception and on the mathematical concepts of instability. The
contribution of meaning in communication is described in a three-phases
model:

- 'motif' is the semantic entity corresponding to the entry of a sign in
lexicon. It is a particular pattern of information structure that is
repeated in all instances of a significatum. The following points are
crucial: (a) Motifs are not invariant, but they have an instability to
be stabilized in a particular interaction with natural language; motifs
enable deviation (b) Motifs are neither figurative (cf. Talmy's
schemes), nor abstract (cf. Langacker's configurations); they are
patterns occuring in several instantiations of a polysemous entity (c)
Motifs are dynamic, i.e. can be modified by their ongoing use in the
communication (their modification is registered in semantic change).
- 'profile' is the semantic entity including the interaction of motifs
in a communicative context. In particular, motifs are getting stabilized
through embedding in a syntagmatic unit and in a domain (music, business
etc.), and through discourse organization (e.g. anaphors).
- 'theme' is the result of profiling, the particular referential content
that a sign takes in a certain occurrence.

The article is not of particular interest for the study of prepositions,
but it is a comprehensive outline of the semantic framework of Candiot
and Visetti (2001). A case study on prepositions in terms of this
framework is presented in article 2.

*****************************************

Article 2.
Title: Schematics and motifs in the semantics of prepositions
Author(s) : Pierre Cadiot
Pages : 41-57

This contribution is a case study on the French prepositions viewed in
terms of the global semantic framework presented in article 1. The
article deals with the French prepositions en, par, sur, sous, et
contre. The analysis shows that:
(a) there is no clear-cut distinction between spatial and non-spatial
uses of prepositions and
(b) the emic meaning of each preposition should be accessed in an
immediate combination of schematic and intentional dimensions (cf.
p.47).
The description of each preposition aims at the identification of motifs
(see article 1), that capture both spatial and non-spatial uses of
prepositions. The uses of prepositions are subsumed under experiential
types, e.g. the preposition contre displays the experiential types
'proximity with contact', 'opposition (contact)', 'exchange',
'proportion/comparison' (the methodological status of 'experiential
types' is not explained in the article 1, that introduces the
framework). At the next level of abstraction 'experiential types' are
subsumed under a motif' in the case of preposition contre, the motif
institutes the affinity of opposition and reconciliation
(force/counter-force, posing/opposing).

The case study presented in this article offers an illustrative
application of the framework presented in article 1. The analysis
presented is interesting especially with respect to the subsumption of
spatial and non-spatial uses of prepositions.

*****************************************

Article 3.
Title: The theoretical status of prepositions: The case of the
"prospective use" of in
Author(s) : Franck Lebas
Pages : 59-73

This article is a contribution to the view of prepositions as relational
elements, that do not bear semantic content. This theoretical view on
prepositions is traced back to Brondal and is very well represented in
French structuralism (Guillaume 1964, Potiet, Martinet etc.). In
particular, this article deals with prepositions like during or in that
- in addition to their relational property - contribute also to the
meaning of the utterance. The semantic content of similar prepositions
is a crucial challenge for the framework that treats prepositions as
units with only syntactic function. In order to capture these properties
the article is based on the differentiation between intrinsic and
extrinsic properties of linguistic signs (Cadiot & Nemo 1997 i.a.).
Extrinsic properties are include knowledge about the significatum of the
sign, that is not necessarily involved in the truth-conditional content.
The article contains a case study on the French preposition dans
discussing different uses of this preposition (with particular emphasis
to the prospective temporal use) in the viewpoint, that its semantic
properties are extrinsic ones.


*****************************************

Article 4.
Title: Temporal semantics of prepositions in context
Author(s) : David S. Brée and Ian E. Pratt-Hartmann
Pages : 75-113

The article is based on a temporal logic developed by the authors and
deals with the interaction between temporal prepositions and verbal
predicates in English. The first part of the article (pp. 77-88)
introduces a formal procedure for the determination of temporal
semantics including tense and aspect. The second part of the article
introduces several classes of temporal prepositions:

- event time = time interval of the PP: at, on, in, during, throughout,
- event time </> time interval of the PP: before, after
- event time = in a range between time of reference and time of the PP:
since, until, till, by.

The article surveys the interaction between these temporal prepositions
and aspect, type of event (verb class), and tense.

*****************************************

Article 5.
Title: Prepositions and context
Author(s) : Ian E. Pratt-Hartmann and Nissim Francez
Pager : 115-126

The article surveys the relationship between aspectual class of the verb
and spatial adverbials in the framework of formal semantics of Davidson
(1967) and Parsons (1990). The analysis results in an interesting
correlation between aspectual class and spatial adjunct, namely:

- the spatial adjunct of event- and activity reporting sentences serves
the localization of the event/activity,
- the spatial adjunct is applicable to state reporting sentences only in
a mereological use, namely if the spatial adjunct can be interpreted as
localizing a part of the localized object. Consider e.g.:

? Mary believes in homeopathy in the garden.
The road is muddy near the church.


*********************************************************
Article 6.
Title: Prepositional phrases as noun modifiers in contemporary Hebrew:
Grammatical, semantic and pragmatic motivations
Author(s) : Esther Borochovsky and Hava Reppen
Pages: 127-143

This contribution deals with the use of Hebrew prepositional phrases as
noun modifiers. The article presents an classification concerning the
determination of the choice of preposition.

- the choice of preposition is lexically determined by the head noun,
e.g. nouns denoting semantic relations between at least two entities
govern in Hebrew the preposition ben 'between'.

- the choice of preposition is lexically determined by the modifier
noun, e.g. nouns indicating the class/category in which the head belongs
to, e.g. 'dogs FROM the kind that leads the blind' are introduced with a
particular preposition in Hebrew.

- the choice of preposition is semantically determined. This case holds
in constructions that allow an alternation of two or more prepositions.
If the alternation is used to make a semantic distinction is assumed to
be semantic, the most typical example being the choice of
spatial/temporal prepositions. If the possible prepositions are freely
interchangeable without making any difference in the truth value of the
expression, then the motivation for the choice of preposition is assumed
to be pragmatic (every choice serves the profiling of a different
perspective of the same information).


*****************************************

Article 7.
Title: The Hebrew prepositions mi-/min "from, of": Same or different?
Author(s) : Yishai Tobin
Pages: 145-169

This paper is a contribution to lexical semantics dealing with two
partially synonymous prepositions of Hebrew, namely mi- and min 'from,
of'. The author applies a methodology of semantic analysis developed by
himself in previous publications (cf. Tobin 1990; 1994) in order to
describe the opposition of both prepositions. The article includes a
short but comprehensive overview of the theoretical framework and a
detailed survey of empirical data from real communication, that are
presented and discussed with additional information about their context.
The analysis covers the macro-level of discourse and the micro-level of
sentence. Use of prepositions in idioms and use in non-conventionalized
utterances are also considered. The distinction of these prepositions is
accounted in terms of the feature of "semantic integrality" assumed to
be a fundamental feature of human cognition and perception. The
preposition mi- is proved to be the marked form of the opposition and
the preposition min the marked one.

*****************************************

Article 8.
Title: A contrastive analysis of French and Hebrew prepositions: The
case of sans, bli-belo and lelo
Author(s) : Susanne Feigenbaum
Pages : 171-191

The article is an analysis of the use of the French preposition sans
contrasted to its equivalents in Hebrew beli, belo and lelo. The
preposition sans is shown to be polysemous:

(a) it may be used as a trivalent operator, negating an event that is
implied by the predicate:

Il tonne sans pleuvoir 'it thunders without raining'

(b) it may be used as a bivalent operator, negating an event that is not
implied by the predicate, but presupposed through the context:

Marcus attend en bas mais cette fois sans les billets pour le cinema
'Marcus is waiting downstairs, but this time without the tickets for the
cinema'

(c) it may be used as monovalent operator (in complex units, idioms,
etc.): the prepositional phrase does not negate a presupposed event, but
functions as a manner adverbial:

Tu n'as pas très faim aujourd'hui, sinon tu aurais mange sans attendre.
'you are not very hungry today, otherwise you would have eaten
immediately'

The Hebrew equivalents of sans are several negative particles with
partially overlapping uses. The distribution of the particles is
partially conditioned by the syntactic environment, partially by the
semantic properties, and partially by stylistic properties. Beli 'with
not etc.' is a negative word used with NPs, infinitives, and clauses.
Mibeli 'without etc.' is restricted to infinitives and clauses. Belo
'without etc.' is used with NPs, infinitives and clauses. And lelo
'lacking etc.' is used only with NPs. The most frequent negative word
is lelo (=> lelo is unmarked). On the other hand, beli is used very
frequent in idioms, and this is an evidence for its expressivity.
Tentatively the unmarked preposition lelo is preferred in monovalent
negation, whereas beli in plurivalent negation. In formal registers like
literature or legal texts, the use of belo is preferred.


*****************************************

Article 9.
Title : A language in change: Declined prepositions in spoken Modern
Hebrew as a case study
Author(s) : Inbar Kimchi-Angert
Pages : 193-207

This article presents an empirical study concerning the declension of
prepositions in Hebrew. Hebrew prepositions are inflected for person
(nominal origin) and may be divided into several declension classes
according to the morphemes used for the declension:

(a) identical to the noun in singular,
(b) similar to the noun in singular,
(c) like nouns in plural, and
(d) other.

In Contemporary Hebrew there is significant variation concerning he use
of these declensions. The article presents empirical data from speakers
with different demographic profiles and provides several generalizations
about the intra-linguistic motivation (analogy, dissimilation, etc.) and
the social distribution (age, sex, origin, education, etc.) of the
deviations from the normative declension system.

*****************************************

Article 10.
Title : The French preposition in contact with Hebrew
Author(s) : Miriam Ben-Rafael
Pages : 209-229

This contribution considers the use of French prepositions in two cases
of language contact between French and Hebrew:

(a) acquisition of French as a second language by native Hebrew-speaking
learners;
(b) a variety of French (namely Franbreu) spoken by native
French-speaking immigrants in Israel.

The research considers deviations from Standard French in both cases
with respect to
(i) the semantics of prepositions with special emphasis to the highly
grammaticalized French preposition "à" and
(ii) the control of prepositions by the verb with special emphasis to
the infinitive constructions.

In the first case, there are significant instances of
over-generalization of the use of preposition "à". In the second
domain, the most striking deviation is the omission of the prepositions
"à", and "de" in the infinitive constructions, e.g.

il est possible () rester en Europe.

From the comparison between French language acquisition and Franbreu
results that the deviations are much more numerous in the case of
acquisition.


*****************************************

Article 11.
Title : "Preposition" as functor: The case of long in Bislama
Author(s) : Dennis Kurzon
Pages : 231-248

The major theoretical point of this contribution concerns the
subdivision of prepositions in lexical and non-lexical. The author
discusses the distinction between prepositions that "have full semantic
meaning, i.e. those words with antonyms, e.g. after/before, and those
that "are highly polysemic and act syntactically more as functors" (p.
232f.). With respect to this distinction the author studies empirical
data from Bislama (Melanesian creole spoken in Vanuatu). In particular,
the empirical data concern the Bislama preposition "long" and show that
the use of this preposition is extremely polysemous so that its semantic
value can be interpreted only with respect to the specific context.
Based on this evidence the author concludes that the preposition long in
Bislama has a principal syntactic function, namely "to indicate a
syntactic relationship between the verb and its complement, and
sometimes between the verb and its modifiers" (p. 246), but it is so
polysemic, that it becomes semantically meaningless.

*****************************************

Article 12.
Title : Prepositions in modern Judeo-Greek (JG) Biblical translations
Author(s) : Julia G. Krivoruchko
Pages : 249-267

The article deals with the use of prepositions in Jewish translations of
the Bible into Greek. The research is based on a modern translation
(19th century). The article compares the use of the prepositions in the
manuscript with the Standard Greek variety and the regional variety
spoken in the environment, where the manuscript was compiled (Epirus).
The translation is rather narrow, aiming at the preservation of the
sense of the original text. The most important deviations reported in
the article are not interferences from Hebrew, but

(a) the reduction of the Greek prepositional paradigm in the translation
and
(b) deviations in the use of case, especially the generalization of
accusative, characteristic for the northern Greek dialects.

The article is of great empirical importance, since the variety of Greek
presented is very marginally studied. Apart from the Biblical
Judeo-Greek, that is the main subject of the contribution, the article
provides also important evidence for the syntax of the variety of Greek
that is assumed to be in contact with the variety of the studied
document, namely the dialect of Epirus in 19th century.



*****************************************

Article 13.
Title : Quddiem and some remarks on grammatical aspects of Maltese
prepositions
Author(s) : Rami Saari
Pages : 269-282

The article surveys the uses of Maltese prepositions with special
emphasis to the preposition quddiem 'in front of'. The descriptive
chapters deal with:

- the declension of Maltese prepositions (suffixation through possessive
pronouns),
- the use of prepositions as adverbs (without a nominal argument),
- the use of prepositions in word-formation (nouns, adjectives, verbs),
- the relationship between prepositions and nouns (the most Maltese
prepositions being of nominal origin),
- the nominalization of prepositional phrases (=the use of prepositional
phrases as arguments of prepositions).
- the use of prepositional phrases in phraseologisms.



*****************************************

Article 14.
Title : Locative prepositions in language acquisition and aphasia
Author(s) : Mark Leikin
Pages : 283-297

This article studies the use of prepositions in first language
acquisition and in language distortions (in particular aphasic
patients). A number of verbal and non-verbal tasks have been used with
native Russian speakers focusing on the use of locative
prepositions/adverbs and the performance of object locating tasks. The
most important results are substitutions of spatial prepositions in the
performance. These substitutions are shown to be in line with a
cognitive map of spatial relations, based on the semantic relations
among them.



**********************************************************

EVALUATION OF THE VOLUME

(a) Contents

The edited collections covers a variety of subjects concerning the
prepositions. The most articles deal with locative and temporal
prepositions, but other semantic categories of prepositions are also
studied in the volume (e.g. the French preposition sans in article 8).
Several syntactic constructions are discussed in different articles such
as the use of prepositional phrase as a verbal complement/adjunct as a
nominal modifier, use of prepositions in word-formation, adverbial use
of prepositions, etc.

The object languages studied in the most articles are French and Modern
Hebrew. A number of articles deal with other languages as well: English
(article 4), Bislama (article 11), Biblical Judeo-Greek (article 12),
Maltese (article 13), and Russian (article 14).

The theoretical frameworks used in the individual contributions show
also a significant variation. Article 5 provides an application of
Davidsonian semantics, article 7 an application of the theory of
Semantic Intergrality of the author, articles 1-2 outline and illustrate
the semantic framework of Pierre Candiot, article 11 uses
representations from X-bar syntax. A theoretical point with particular
interest for the syntactic treatment of prepositions that is found in
the most contributions in the volume, is the formal treatment of
prepositions as functors (and not as heads of prepositional phrases)
according to the French structuralist tradition (Guillaume, Martinet,
Potier etc.). A discussion of this formal treatment in the introduction
of the edition would be very useful, especially for readers that are not
familiar with this theoretical view. However, the book provides an
outline of this theoretical viewpoint in article 3.

Many contributions show very innovative (and not yet sufficiently
discussed in the literature) results about the prepositions. See e.g.
the correlation between states/events and spatial adjuncts in article 5,
or the classification concerning the determination of preposition in
article 6 (though not indisputable viewpoint). Some articles are of
great empirical interest such as article 12 on Judeo-Greek, or article 9
on Hebrew prepositional declensions in change.

Several domains of linguistic research are represented in the articles
of the volume, e.g. sociolinguistics (article 9, etc.), language
description (article 11, 13, etc.), language contact (article 11, 12,
etc.), first language acquisition (article 14), second language
acquisition (article 10), language distortions (article 14),
semiotics (article 1, 7, 8, etc.). Although the theoretical and
interdisciplinary polyphony is indisputably one of the merits of the
volume, the articles are rather independent contributions under the
general topic "prepositions" than interrelated approaches from
complementary perspectives/with complementary evidence. There are only
very few cross-references between the articles in the collection.


(b) Styles

Concerning the styles of the handbook, the edition is very good with
only a very few minor typographical errors (e.g. p. 115: a sentences; p.
151: prepostion).

The general editorial policy tends rather to respect the choices of the
individual contributors than to normalize the styles throughout the
collection. E.g. some articles are preceded by an abstract (articles 4,
5, etc.), whereas other articles are not (articles 2, 11, etc.). The
most articles have numerated headlines (e.g. articles 1, 2, 3, etc.),
however not all (e.g. article 13).
The same policy is followed with respect to the formal aspects of
linguistic editing. Expressions in the object language are set in some
contributions in italics, in other contributions in normal font. The
morphological transcriptions use almost exclusively words in the book
language (English) avoiding any abbreviations of grammatical terms. One
contribution, namely article 13 on Maltese has abbreviations of
grammatical terms as glosses (in this case a list of abbreviations would
be useful, especially for the readers that are not familiar with, and do
not know the flectional categories of Maltese; however, the
abbreviations used are in general understandable).


**********************************************************

References

Cadiot, P. & Visetti, Y.M. (2001), Pour une théorie des formes
sémantiques : motifs, profils, thèmes. Paris : Presses Universitaires
de France.

Cadiot & Nemo (1997), Propriétés extrinsèques en sémantique
lexicale. Journal of French Language Studies, 7, 1-19.

Davidson, D. (1967), The logical form of action sentences. IN: Rescher,
N. (ed.), The Logic of Decision and Action. Pittsburgh: University Press

Guillaume, G. (1964), Language et science du language. Paris: Nizet i.a.

Martinet, A. (1985). Syntaxe générale, Colin, Paris

Parsons, T. (1990), Events in the Semantics of English: a Study in
Subatomic Semantics. Dordrecht: Kluwer

Pottier, B. (1987), Théorie et analyse en linguistique, Paris, Hachette

Tobin, Y. (1990), Semiotics and Linguistics. London, New York: Longman

Tobin, Y. (1994), Invariance, Markedness and Distinctive feature
analysis: A Contrastive Study of Sign Systems in English and Hebrew.
Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins


§


 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Stavros Skopeteas works at the University of Erfurt and is interested in linguistic typology, language change, formal syntax, and computational linguistics (Ph.D. dissertation 2002, "Spatial constructions in Greek: Language Change in Functional Perspective" [lang=German]).