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I am trying to see if I can come up with new prepositions according to my thoughts on getting rid of prepositions (for a conlang).

First, prepositions are "before things" traditionally, but I think of them as "after" things. Don't know if that is important. But you have prepositions after verbs, and after nouns.

After Verbs

  • I worry about stuff.
  • I listen to music.
  • I cope with my condition.

After Nouns

  • The age at which you are allowed to vote.
  • The grass on the hill.
  • The tree over by the rock.

Templates/Patterns

It appears as though you first need to convert the "after noun" form into an "after verb" form:

  • The grass, where the grass is on the hill.
  • The tree, where the tree is over by the rock.

The template/pattern is basically, a preposition shortens such a complex expression like those last statements (with the "where" clause) into a discrete word or word sequence.

But you can take it further, where the "after verb" preposition is broken down into a verb + complement:

  • on ~ arrive attach

So we have:

the grass, where the grass is arrive attach the hill
the grass,̶ ̶w̶h̶e̶r̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶g̶r̶a̶s̶s̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶a̶r̶r̶i̶v̶e̶ ̶a̶t̶t̶a̶c̶h̶ the hill
the grass *on* the hill
  • on: where the x is arrive attach

So then it seems you can "expand" prepositions into this where clause + verb + complement, and the preposition is just shorthand for that sort of long phrase. Just a thought. Somehow I have a feeling that prepositions are a complex and arbitrary shortener for complex phrases, which is perhaps support for why Lexical and Functional Prepositions in Acquisition: Evidence for a Hybrid Category says prepositions aren't as fundamental as nouns/verbs/adjectives, and why they are so awkward.

Question

So in thinking about that, I am wondering if languages have "freely open" classes of prepositions. In English I saw here that, at least in past versions of English, prepositions were an open class (though I don't know of examples). But what about old English, or other languages, are there any examples where they are just as open as nouns/verbs/adjectives? Or at least more open than they are in English?

So I try to make up prepositions, working backward from the long "template" sentences above:

  • Start with "where the eating is fixed to the table."
  • Go to "I want to eat, where the eating is fixed arrive the table."
  • Prepositionize: "I want to eat affixed the table."

Something like that perhaps? Where "affix" is a preposition? Or am I doing it wrong?

  • "where the singing is to the sky."
  • "I want to sing, where the singing is to the sky."
  • "I want to sing skyward."

No, that is an adverb. So can there be prepositions after verbs and it not be an adverb?

  • "where the crawling is under the ground."
  • "I want to crawl, where the crawling is move below arrive the ground."
  • "I want to crawl mogrunderward."

How about "after noun" prepositions using the template?

  • where the bug is just within the bounds of the garden.
  • the bug, where the bug is just within the bounds of the garden.
  • the bug, where the but is just join enter the bounds base the garden.
  • the bug jentrabase the garden

I don't know, I am trying to create new prepositions, even though it feels clunky (and English doesn't seem to really allow it that much).

Are there languages which allow you to do this sort of thing? Is so, what are a few examples to demonstrate the scope, so I can wrap my head around it better. If not, why not?

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    Pre-positions are, as the name suggests, not ‘after’ anything. Prepositional phrases (preposition + their complement, traditionally called their object) can appear in lots of different places in sentences and after just about any word class, not just verbs and nouns (what would they be ‘after’ if they’re first in the sentence?). Whether prepositions are somehow a reduction of full sentences is more of a philosophical question than a linguistic one, really – there is certainly no need for such an analysis, and I don’t really think it’s a useful starting point for conlanging. Jul 23, 2023 at 15:49
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    I recommend studying some traditional syntax. If you get used to ideas like constituency, recursion, and adjuncts, some of this will make more sense. As Janus says, prepositions don't have to come after anything: "on Tuesday I'm leaving for a week".
    – Draconis
    Jul 23, 2023 at 15:52
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    That said, you can certainly make prepositions an open class in your language if you want to. English has a bit of it, with words like during being on the fence between being participles (i.e., verbs/nouns, depending on use) and prepositions. I can’t think of any good examples off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are languages that have specific verbal forms or nominal cases that can be shoehorned into making prepositions more easily than in English and might be considered to have prepositions as an ‘open’ class. Jul 23, 2023 at 15:55
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    Why do you need to get rid of prepositions? Whatever you say something means in your conlang is what it will mean.
    – Lambie
    Jul 23, 2023 at 22:55
  • Proto-Indo-European, according to reconstructions, treated prepositions as a special type of gerund. Also we do form new prepositions in English, but mostly as mathematical operations (e.g. addition has the preposition "plus", as in "two plus two is 4": "plus" functions as a preposition).
    – Fomalhaut
    Jul 28, 2023 at 4:08

1 Answer 1

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There is a term "adposition" which avoids the "pre-" vs "post-" problem. I don't know if your issue is specifically with prepositions (and not postpositions), or is it with adpositions in general.

Not everything that you cited is an example of a "preposition", there is also a set of "particles" in "verb-particle" constructions, as in "look up", "tear down", which don't mean the same thing as normal prepositions and don't behave the same as them. Germanic languages happen to have a lot of verbs that are verb-particle pairs.

There is a strong tendency for people to think of adpositions in terms of their semantic function, therefore if you are hunting for adpositions in a language you might look for the equivalent of "under the table", "by the table", "away from the table", focusing on spacial relations, because the English words are prepositions so you might find an adposition in another language that expresses the same concept. If you are focused on a semantically-driven categorization of markers, you would be inclined to take "under the table" to exemplify a likely adposition but not do so with "every", "his" and so on. Yet all of these words come before the noun, so what is it about "under" that makes it seem prepositiony but not "every" or "his"?

One thing is syntax: prepositions come before articles, adjectives etc come after. That might lead you to think that quantifiers and selectors like "all, most, which" are prepositions. You could also appeal to semantic properties to conclude that "under" is a preposition and "all" is not.

Appealing to semantics as an arbiter of prepositionality, we can say that "under" must be a preposition since it has no use other than its adpositional uses, and "stomach" could be an adposition, translating "inside" as well as literally referring to a body organ (this is common in African languages), but "fire" or "spider" are not plausible prepositions, since there is no sensible metaphor involving these words: but even if some language did turn "spider" into a spacial term meaning "moving across", this only works when the relationship is conventionalized. Which is contrary to the goal of having an open-ended set of "prepositions". Which is why there is no set of open-ended prepositions, unlike nouns or verbs.

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  • So could you say "The spider walked aspider the room."? And have aspider mean, walking around like a spider.
    – Lance
    Jul 23, 2023 at 18:24
  • Also, could you provide some examples of cases where there are more clever pronouns outside the ~150 English is said to offer? Or are you saying there aren't any cases of that?
    – Lance
    Jul 23, 2023 at 18:25
  • "back" is a very common one for "behind"; in Kpelle you have "mouth" for "in", "hand" for "from", "ground floor" for "down"; also, in 'serial verb' constructions, verbs like "take", "get", "give", "go" take on a quasi-prepositional function.
    – user6726
    Jul 23, 2023 at 18:40
  • I've yet to find a language where fully there are no prepositions. Though it appears there are only 17 in arabic? Any examples taking it to zero? So I would either like to have an open class of prepositions (which it sounds like is never possible), or a completely gone class of prepositions haha. Sorry that's more a conlang question, but this was generally a linguistics question as a whole.
    – Lance
    Jul 23, 2023 at 18:46
  • Japanese has only postpositions, I assume you don't mean specifically prepositions.
    – user6726
    Jul 23, 2023 at 18:59

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