Review of On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases
|Date: Thu, 8 Jul 2004 04:41:13 +0200
From: Stavros Skopeteas
Subject: On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases
AUTHOR: Luraghi, Silvia
TITLE: On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases
SUBTITLE: The expression of semantic roles in Ancient Greek
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
Stavros Skopeteas, University of Potsdam
The book deals with the semantics of prepositions and cases in Ancient
Greek. Next to linguists working on Greek, the book is intended for a
broader audience of semanticists, historical linguists, and typologists
who are interested in the theoretical aspects of preposition and case
semantics. In order to reach linguists who are not necessarily
specialized in Greek, the book provides detailed morphological
transcriptions of the cited Greek examples.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK
After discussing the main objectives of the book, the introduction
gives an overview of the available data from Ancient Greek and presents
the typological profile of the language. The investigated corpus is
discussed in more detail: it includes the Homeric poems, Herodotus,
Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle, covering thus the development from
Early Ionic to Classical Attic of the 4th century BC. In addition to
the main corpus, some parallel sources that are mentioned in the book
without being treated in full account (orators, Aristophanes, Xenophon,
and later works) are also briefly introduced here.
Chapter 1 ''Theoretical Foundations'' sets out the concepts of lexical
semantics used in the further analysis. In general, the book follows
the Cognitive Grammar approach (cf. Langacker 1987, etc.). The main
theoretical assumptions are synopsized as follows:
* Grammatical elements are conceived as meaningful.
* Lexical forms are polysemous in isolation.
* Specific meanings of polysemous elements are 'activated' in
* Individual meanings of the same element are related through rules
of semantic extension (metaphor, metonymy).
The individual meanings of the same element are represented in mental
maps, i.e. figures containing the meanings linked through lines/arrows
which represent the paths of semantic extension among them. The next
subsection of this chapter provides an overview of the semantic roles
used for the description of prepositions and cases: spatial relations
(location, direction, source, path, etc.), time relations, comitative,
agent, instrument, cause, recipient, beneficiary, experiencer,
possessor, purpose, patient, manner, and area.
Chapter 2 ''Semantics of Greek Cases'' outlines the functions of those
cases that occur with prepositions in Greek, namely genitive, dative,
and accusative. The first part of the chapter summarizes the diachronic
processes of syncretism that led to the Ancient Greek case system
(genitive/ablative > genitive, dative/locative/instrumental > dative).
The second part discusses the syntax and semantics of oblique cases
focussing on those aspects that are relevant for the analysis of
'preposition and case' combinations in chapter 3:
* Accusative, genitive, and dative NPs occur as verb complements (and
may be passivized).
* The cases bear also local meanings: dative of stationary location,
ablatival genitive, accusative of direction. The occurrence of these
meanings with plain cases is very limited, since the cases in their use
as spatial relators are reinforced by prepositions.
* A significant part of the discussion on case semantics is devoted to
the partitive genitive: The syntactic peculiarity of this case is that
it does not encode the relation of a dependent noun to its head (like
other cases do), but rather functions as a specifier, indicating if the
participant is totally or partially involved in the state of affairs.
Chapter 3 ''Greek Prepositions'' is the main part of the descriptive
study, covering the two-third of the volume. The prepositions dealt
with in this chapter are the so-called 'proper prepositions' in Ancient
Greek Grammars, i.e. the elements that occur as prepositions and as
preverbs. The introductory section discusses the problem of the
syntactic-categorial status of these elements, namely if they govern or
modify the accompanying NP, and accordingly if they function as
prepositions or adverbs. The main part of the chapter is organized in
18 sections, each devoted to a proper preposition: _en_ 'in', _ek/ex_
'out of', _eis_ 'to', _apó_ 'from', _pará_ 'by', _sún/xún_ 'with',
_pró_ 'before', _antí_ 'instead of', _diá_ 'through', _aná_ 'up',
_katá_ 'down', _hupér_ 'over', _hupó_ 'under', _metá_ 'after/among',
_amphí_ 'around', _perí_ 'about', _prós_ 'toward', and _epí_ 'on'.
These sections contain an introductory paragraph that gives a brief
account of the etymology of the particle and its properties as adverb
and preverb. The main part is a detailed treatment of the prepositional
use. The individual meanings of each preposition with each case are
identified in the corpus, starting with Homer and proceeding to the
later authors of the sample. The analysis proceeds with establishing
rules of semantic extension on the basis of the empirical data, which
are often presented in terms of mental maps at the end of the section.
The descriptive work is based on the collection and discussion of
examples from the text sample. Semantic properties are identified
through the contexts in which a preposition occurs. By drawing
inferences from several occurrences in corpus the author identifies the
meaning(s) of each preposition, revises previous approaches, and
compares the semantics of related or opposed prepositions (see e.g.
_ek_ 'out of' vs. _apó_ 'from' in p. 97) or of the different cases with
the same preposition (see e.g. _epí_ 'on' with dative and genitive in
After the identification of individual meanings the analysis proceeds
with the relations among them. The meanings are related through
semantic extension which is either diachronically attested (in cases of
meanings that appear after Homer) or assumed on the basis of different
kinds of evidence: e.g. limited frequency is used as an argument for
the recent development of _metá_ 'after/among' with genitive in Homer
(p. 245); the usual paths of semantic extension support the otherwise
non-provable claim about the spatial origin of _antí_ 'instead of' (p.
165). Several patterns of semantic extension are investigated with
respect to different prepositions. The typical metaphors from 'space'
to 'time' and to more abstract relations occur in many prepositions. In
addition, some challenging cases for the uni-directionality hypothesis
of this change also occur, e.g. the development of _metá_ 'after/among'
from 'time' to 'space' (p. 155).
The rationale of the metaphoric extension is often postulated through
schematic principles: e.g. from 'destination' to 'purpose' through the
principle ''PURPOSES ARE DESTINATIONS'' (with respect to _eis_ 'to' in p.
110), from 'comitative' to 'instrument' through the principle ''AN
INSTRUMENT IS A COMPANION'' (with respect to _sún_ 'with' in p. 148),
from the spatial relation 'path' to 'intermediary' through the metaphor
''AN INTERMEDIARY IS A CHANNEL FOR THE AGENT'S INTENTIONALITY'' (with
respect to _diá_ 'through' in p. 179). The description of these
metaphors in Greek is in many cases accompanied by a discussion of the
respective literature on similar phenomena in other languages,
especially within the framework of Cognitive Grammar or further studies
in lexical semantics (see e.g. the discussion on models for containment
introduced by Vandeloise 1994, on the occasion of the semantics of
Greek _en_ 'in' in p. 84f.).
Semantic extension is sometimes considered as originating in logical
inferences; e.g. the extension from 'on both sides' to 'all around' in
the case of _amphí_ 'around' is interpreted as follows: ''if ones refers
to both sides of an object, one implies that the object only has two
sides so that 'both sides' comes to mean 'all sides''' (p. 256). In
language change, the second meaning may evolve as a reinterpretation of
the first one ~V indeed this change is attested for the preposition
The semantic representations are mental maps, that summarize the
meanings encoded through the same element, i.e. the same preposition.
The individual meanings are linked through lines, that represent the
path of semantic extension among them (see e.g. p. 106 for _ek_ 'out
of', p. 130 for _apó_ 'from', p. 164 for _pró_ 'before', p. 250 for
_metá_ 'after/among' and accusative, p. 273 for _perí_ 'about', p. 297
for _prós_ 'toward', and p. 302 for _epí_ 'on'). In some cases arrows
are used instead of lines that visualize the additional information of
the direction of the semantic extension (see e.g. p. 213 for _katá_
'down', p. 267 for _amphí_ 'around', and p. 292 for _prós_ 'toward' and
genitive). A very interesting point concerning the use of mental maps
is the occurrence of prepositions that display identical meanings but
differ with respect to the way these meanings are linked in the
semantic network. Such a case is illustrated in the comparison of the
mental maps for _apó_ 'from' (p. 130) and _ek_ 'out of' (p. 106). Both
prepositions share five common meanings: 'time', 'source', 'cause',
'origin', 'agent'. The mental maps of these prepositions differ as to
the paths of semantic extension among the otherwise identical meanings.
In the case of _apó_ 'from', 'cause' evolves out of the spatial meaning
'source', whereas in the case of _ek_ 'out of' the same meaning
'source' is first extended to 'time', and the latter is extended to
'cause' (see p. 130 for discussion).
Some schematic figures are used as well, especially to illustrate
spatial meanings; see e.g. the use of _pará_ 'by' with accusative
illustrated in its occurrence with multiplex and with uniplex landmarks
(p. 138), or a figure representing different trajectories that are
encoded through _diá_ 'through' (p. 171), or the comparison between
spatial configurations denoted by _hupó_ + dative and _katá_ + genitive
(p. 200). These illustrations represent the principal properties of the
landmark and the trajector, and in cases of motion the trajectory along
which the trajector moves. These figures are not highly formalized, but
they convey comprehensively the spatial configurations they stand for.
Chapter 4 presents the conclusions of the book. The first section
summarizes the meanings of individual prepositions as presented in
Chapter 3, considering mainly the spatial uses and the opposition of
cases. The conclusion is that PPs 'whose internal structure is simpler
are more stable', i.e. prepositions which do not combine with several
cases undergo less semantic change. The next section deals with the
non-spatial meanings of prepositions from the point of view of the
encoded semantic roles (time, comitative, agent, instrument,
intermediary, cause, recipient/addressee, beneficiary, possessor,
purpose, and area) and gives a summary of the described paths of
semantic extension. The third section of the conclusion summarizes the
results about the use of prepositional cases and the last section gives
a brief overview of the further development of Greek prepositions in
the post-classical era.
One of the most interesting generalizations of the book, which is
discussed in several sections in Chapter 3 and summarized in the
conclusion, is the decomposition of case semantics in the different
'prepositions and case' combinations. The use of different cases within
PPs is analysed as a manifold opposition:
Genitive, dative and accusative are opposed as to the encoding of
different spatial relations:
* genitive = source
* dative = stationary location
* accusative = direction
Genitive and accusative are opposed with respect to the internal
structure of the landmark:
* genitive = discontinuous landmark
* accusative = continuous landmark
A further opposition, which occurs with many prepositions in Homer, is
the one between dative and accusative for the distinction of +/-
contact to the landmark (dative encodes contact and accusative encodes
lack of contact).
>From the point of view of Greek linguistics, the book offers a
thorough descriptive work in a characteristic domain of the Ancient
Greek syntax, the preposition and case constructions. Among the many
genuine points of the empirical work, the innovative approach to the
striking problem of the decomposition of case semantics within PPs
(mentioned above), has to be emphasized here.
As a study in lexical semantics, a special merit of the book is the
investigation of semantic extension on the basis of diachronic
evidence. Defining the direction of semantic extension is an essential
problem for synchronic studies, which is often solved on the basis of
linguistic intuition. The directional character of semantic extension
is here substantiated through the diachronic evidence. Another
important contribution of the book is of course that it provides with a
long inventory of prepositional meanings covering several concrete and
abstract roles as well as specifying properties of the landmark such as
animacy, plexity, etc. The individual meanings are related in different
interesting ways, either opposed through the case alternation or co-
occurring in the same preposition and case construction and linked by
Langacker, Ronald 1987, _Foundations of cognitive grammar_, vol. 1.
Stanford: University Press
Vandeloise, Claude 1994, ''Methodology and analysis of the preposition
_in_''. _Cognitive Linguistics_ 5.2, 157-184
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Stavros Skopeteas (University of Potsdam) is interested in language typology and historical linguistics. His Ph.D. dissertation ("Spatial constructions in Greek: Language change in functional perspective", 2003, University of Erfurt) contains a functional-typological description of spatial relators (adpositions, adverbs, motion verbs) in
the history of Greek.