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Show full table of contents Deictic/inherent prepositions

There are only three simple deictic prepositions: achter'behind', naast'next to', and voor'in front of'. In addition to these simple prepositions, there are two phrasal prepositions: links van'to the left of' and rechts van'to the right of'. These prepositions denote vectors with a magnitude greater than 0, that is, it is implied that there is no physical contact between the reference object and the located object.

Table 14: Deictic locational prepositions
preposition deictic inherent absolute null vector
achter'behind' + +
naast'next to' + +
voor'in front of' + +
links van'to the left of' + +
rechts van'to the right of' + +

The prepositions in Table 14 can all be used inherently as well, so that their use may give rise to ambiguity between the deictic and the inherent reading. This is illustrated in Figure 9 for the prepositions achter and voor in (181): the A figures represent the deictic use with the speaker as the anchoring point, and the B figures represent the inherent interpretations.

Example 181
Jan staat achter/voor de auto.
  Jan stands  behind/in.front.of  the car

Figure 9: Achter'behind' and voor'in front of'

It is important to stress that the use of the notion “reading” implies that there is nothing in the prepositions achter and voor themselves or the construction that they are used in that determines whether we are dealing a deictic or an inherent reading; the intended interpretation depends on the perspective and intentions of the speaker, cf. Grabowski & Weiß (1995), Levelt (1996) and Beliën (2014). The same holds for the preposition naast'next to' in (182a), which is ambiguous in the same way as achter and voor, but in addition denotes two separate regions, which are opposite to each other. Due to the ambiguity between the deictic and the inherent reading, (182a) is therefore consistent with Jan being in one of the four positions indicated in Figure 10A&B. As is shown in Figure 11, the phrasal prepositions links van and rechts van in (182b) only refer to a subset of these positions.

Example 182
a. Jan staat naast de auto.
  Jan stands  next.to  the car
  'Jan is standing next to the car.'
b. Jan staat links/rechts van de auto.
  Jan stands  left/right  of  the car
  'Jan is standing to the left/right of the car.'

Figure 10: Naast'next to'

Figure 11 : Links/rechts van'to the left/right of'

      The deictic interpretation of the prepositions achter'behind' and voor'in front of' becomes impossible as soon as they are combined with prepositions such as aan'on', in'in', or op'on', which can only be used inherently; cf. Section This is illustrated in (183) for achter/voor, which can only be used to refer to the A situations in Figure 12. Section 3.1.3 will argue that achterop and voorop are probably compounds. For completenesssake, note that aan/op/in cannot be combined with naast'next to': cf. * naastaan * naastop, * naastin.

Example 183
Jan zit achter/voor op de auto.
  Jan sits behind/in.front.of  on the car
'Jan is sitting on the back/front of the car.'

Figure 12: Achter op'on the back of' and voor op'on the front of'

      The examples in (184), finally, show that the PPs headed by the deictic prepositions in Table 14 can be used both to indicate a location, as in (184a), and a change of location, as in (184b).

Example 184
a. De vuilnisbak staat achter/naast/voor de auto.
  the garbage.can  stands  behind/next.to/in.front.of  the car
b. Jan zet de vuilnisbak achter/naast/voor de auto.
  Jan puts  the garbage.can  behind/next.to/in.front.of  the car
  • Beliën, Maaike2014A reaction to Syntax of Dutch: Adpositions and adpositional phrasesNederlandse Taalkunde19
  • Grabowski, J. & Weiß, P1995The prepositional inventory of languages: a factor that affects comprehension of spatial prepositionsArbeiten der Forschungsgruppe Sprache und Kognition (Universität Mannheim)
  • Levelt, Willem1996Perspective taking and ellipsis in spatial descriptionsBloom, Paul (ed.)Language and spaceCambridge, MAMIT Press77-107
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