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Spatial Prepositions

A Case Study from French

This striking study of the meaning and use of the major spatial prepositions in French provides valuable insight into how the human mind organizes spatial relationships.

Most previous analyses of spatial prepositions have assumed that their semantic properties can be adequately explained by familiar logical and geometrical concepts. Thus, the standard view of the preposition "in" as it appears in the sentence "the ball is in the bag" postulates that it refers to the geometrical relation of inclusion. This paradigm, however, falters when faced with the contrast in acceptability between sentences such as "the bulb is in the socket" and "the bottle is in the cap." The force exerted by the "landmark" (a conceptually fixed object) on the "target" (a moveable object) is crucial in this difference: the functional notion of containment seems more operational in the use of the preposition "in" than inclusion. That is, what are taken to be the landmark and the target depend greatly on the functions these objects serve in the human scheme. This offers important clues to otherwise problematic linguistic quirks, such as why one sleeps in one’s bed, while one is said to lie on one’s deathbed.

While many of the examples apply in English as well as French, there are some noteworthy differences—in French one sits on a chair, but in a couch. Vandeloise convincingly argues that it is precisely this subjective element which makes a standard geometrical account unfeasible.

276 pages | 174 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 1991

Cognitive Science: Language

Language and Linguistics: Language Studies, Syntax and Semantics

Table of Contents

Part One - General Concepts
1. Beyond geometric and logical descriptions of space: A functional description
1.1. The geometric description of space
1.2. The logical description of spatial propositions
1.3. A functional description of spatial prepositions
2. The asymmetry of spatial relations
2.1. Target and landmark
2.2. The relation of landmark and speaker
2.3. Directional and functional prepositions
3. The representation of objects
3.1. The idealization of the terms of a spatial relation
3.2. Intrinsic orientation of objects
3.3. The contextual orientation of objects
4. Concepts involved in the description of spatial prepositions
4.1. The corpus of the description
4.2. Prepositional use
4.3. Complex primitives and language acquisition
4.4. Pragmatic bridges and language acquisition
4.5. Review
Part Two - Spatial Prepositions
5. The expressions près de / loin de and accessibility
5.1. The expressions près de / loin de and distance
5.2. Accessibility and the norm
5.3. The description of the expressions près de / loin de
5.4. A comparison of the expressions près de / proche de
6. Positions of the vertical axis
6.1. The vertical axis
6.2. The expressions au-dessus de / en dessous de
7. The prepositions devant / derrière and general orientation
7.1. General orientation
7.2. The prepositions devant / derrière and general orientation
7.3. The prepositional terms of the relations devant / derrière
7.4. The expressions en face de / dans le dos de and frontal direction
8. The expressions à gauche / à droite and lateral orientation
8.1. The advantages of the lateral direction over the line of sight
8.2. The advantages of lateral orientation over lateral direction
8.3. La gauche / la droite
8.4. The prepositional terns of à gauche / à droite
9. The prepositions devant / derrière and access to perception
9.1. Bisemy of the prepositions devant / derrière
9.2. A unified description of the English expressions in front of / in back of
9.3. The second usage rule of the prepositions devant / derrière
9.4. The impetus of the prepositions devant / derrière
10. The prepositions avant / après and order in potential encounter
10.1. The prepositions avant / après and order along a scale
10.2. The prepositions avant / après and relative movement
10.3. Potential encounter
10.4. The expressions en avant / en arrière
10.5. The distributions of avant / après and devant / derrière
11. The preposition à and localization
11.1. The formal properties of the preposition à
11.2. The prepositions à and localization
11.3. The preposition à and integrated landmarks
11.4. Conclusions
12. The prepositions sur / sous and the bearer / burden relation
12.1. Characteristics of the prepositions sur / sous
12.2. The bearer / burden relation and the impetus of the prepositions sur / sous
12.3. The development of sous based on its impetus
12.4. Comparison of the prepositions à and sur,
12.5. Comparison of the prepositions contre and sur
12.6. The relation between the prepositions derrière and sous
13. The prepositions dans / horsde and the container / contained relation
13.1. Topological relations between the objects of the prepositions dans / hors de
13.2. Total inclusion and partial inclusion
13.3. The expression hors de and movement
13.4. The container / contained relation
13.5. A comparison of the prepositions dans, sur, and sous
13.6. The expressions en dedans / en dehors

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