I've been trying to construct sentences using only Semantic Primes (i.e., from the Natural Semantic Metalanguage). However, I'm having a difficult time figuring out how to do so without "to" and "from". For example, how might a language say something like, "I move from this place to this place" without using using "to" and "from" and without changing the fundamental meaning of the sentence?

  • Are you specifically asking about the Natural Semantic Metalanguage?
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 16 '17 at 0:37
  • Yes, NSM & Semantic Primes. Oct 16 '17 at 5:54

American Sign Language doesn't use "to" and "from". Instead, you would sign something along the lines of "PAST, I live Orlando. LAST-YEAR, I move Seattle." The word for "move" is directional, meaning that you would move your hands in the direction from Orlando to Seattle - or, northwest. So you might argue that "move" is more literally "move-to", but there still is no specific word for "to" in ASL.

  • 1
    Swahili is also like that.
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 16 '17 at 12:03
  • 1
    Really? That's fascinating. Oct 16 '17 at 20:28
  • 3
    Yes. :) For example, "I went to Nairobi" is Nilikwenda Nairobi - 1pSG.PAST.go Nairobi. No preposition, no case.
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 16 '17 at 20:57
  • 2
    No, I'm from Ukraine. :)
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 22 '17 at 9:37
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    I learned some Swahili. Every primary textbook has what I wrote here.
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 30 '17 at 12:11

What you are asking is a normal phenomenon in languages with noun cases.

Namely, Lative case (LAT) is used to denote movement toward an object, while
Ablative case (ABL) denotes movement from an object.

So basically, in these languages your example sentence would be formed,

I move A-ABL B-LAT

The Ablative is much more widespread among the Indo-European languages, probably because it was one of the noun cases found in Sanskrit.

Note, however, that some languages still use particles along with certain noun cases, so it may not be a clear "without "to" and "from".

More than that! Some languages differ the movement toward an object (Lative) from movement into an object (Illative) or movement onto/under an object (Sublative),
and also a similar distinction with movement away from (Ablative) and movement from inside an object (Elative).

See the full list of noun cases for movement from and movement to on Wikipedia.

  • 1
    Very informative, but Semantic Primes take into account casing. Molly's answer seems to cover it by referring to date. Oct 16 '17 at 5:51
  • @jamiestroud69 Well, since movement is something that "exists", languages will have ways to express it. If Semantic Primes takes into account all possible ways to express "to-fromness", then no, no languages will lack "to-fromness". They may rely on preopositons (he moved to London from Cambridge), case (he moved Londonto Cambridgefrom), word order (he Cambrige moved London), verbal flexion (he Cambridge was, London is), adverbs (he London now, Cambridge before), different verbs (he London came Cambridge vs he London went Cambridge), etc. So which of these count as "without to and from?" Oct 17 '17 at 13:01
  • Just incidentally, @LuísHenrique , it’s somewhat funny that you presuppose that if something exists than languages will express it... I think you got it backwards, rather “if a language expresses it, than the thing or phenomena is meaningful” (for those speakers) <let’s leave existence out of it — ontology isn’t part of linguistics!>
    – Teusz
    Oct 26 '17 at 5:30
  • @Teusz - thence "exists" between quote marks. Oct 26 '17 at 12:51

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