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Review of  The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing and Lying

Reviewer: Yury A. Lander
Book Title: The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing and Lying
Book Author: John Newman
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Book Announcement: 14.523

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Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2003 02:34:10 +0300 (MSK)
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.

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
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

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
(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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.