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How many and which prepositions do you need to express everything that prepositions can express.

In "Alice goes under the line" and "Alice goes over the line" you could solve both cases with the same proposition if you add an adjective that indicates going under or over. It either going under or going over.

The same doesn't go for prepositions such as 'of' and 'to'. You can't replace one of them with the other by adding an adjective.

Is there a minimal set of essential preposition that you can't exchange against each other?

  • Are you asking which language has the lowest number of prepositions? Many languages use case endings instead or in combination with prepositions (or postpositions or preverbs etc) and some combine prepositions with nouns into tiny phrases to express what we might consider basic prepositions. For example Japanese has "no naka ni" for "inside". – hippietrail Oct 10 '13 at 12:31
  • I want to design something which can represent prepositions and I want to have everything that can be done with prepositions. For that task I want to limit the amount of preposistions I have to implement. Whether there already a specific language out there with only has those prepositions isn't relevant. – Christian Oct 10 '13 at 12:33
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    Well theoretically the minimal number would be zero - it's plausible for all the jobs of prepositions to be done with cases or cases combined with some other feature. But I wouldn't be surprised if there are languages with as low as one or two prepositions only, if not my theoretical minimum. – hippietrail Oct 10 '13 at 12:37
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    Unfortunately, prepositions denotes a word class that has a lot of different jobs in English, not all of them semantic, so there is no single way to "represent them", except as prepositions. This does not seem like an advance. – jlawler Oct 10 '13 at 17:34
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    @hippietrail: Yes, I'm not well versed in linguistics. I accepted an answer for this question, as it answers the question as asked. I will read a bit and form a new question when I think I know enough to ask the question better than I asked this one. – Christian Oct 10 '13 at 18:54
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Tok Pisin has two prepositions:

  • bilong meaning 'of' or 'for' (the genitive, essentially)
  • long for everything else
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