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1.3.1.2.3. Inherent prepositions
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Inherent prepositions are interpreted in relation to the dimensional properties of the reference object (the complement of the preposition). The four subsets in (215) can be distinguished; these will be discussed in the following subsections.

Example 215
Inherent prepositions:
a. Prepositions that denote a set of vectors that situate the located object:
(i) relative to the dimensions mentally attributed to the reference object: achter'behind', naast'next to', voor'in front of' and tegenover'opposite'
(ii) relative to the physical dimensions of the reference object: langs'along', binnen'within/inside', buiten'outside', bij'near'
b. Prepositions that denote the null vector:
(i) the located object is (partly) in the reference object: in'in', uit'out of', door'through'
(ii) the located object is in contact with the reference object: aan'on', op'on', over (II) 'over', tegen'against'
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[+]  I.  Prepositions that denote a set of vectors

The two sets of prepositions that belong to this group situate the located object with respect to the reference object, without implying that there is physical contact between the two. Two groups can be distinguished: prepositions that situate the located object with respect to the dimensions mentally attributed the reference object and prepositions that situate the located object with respect to the physical dimensions of the reference object.

[+]  A.  Prepositions situating the located object with respect to the dimensions mentally attributed the reference object.

Section 1.3.1.2.1 has shown that the prepositions achter'behind', naast'next to' and voor'in front of' can be used both deictically and inherently. The inherent uses of these prepositions are illustrated again in Figure 18.

Example 216
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

Figure 18: Achter'behind', naast'next to' and voor'in front of'

The computation of the location of the located object depends on what is considered the back or the front of the reference object. It should be noted that this depends largely on convention in the sense that the dimensional properties of the reference object do not play a role. Some examples: the front of a car is determined by the direction the car normally goes, the front of a building is generally determined by its main entrance, and the front of a TV set is determined by the placement of the screen. Other factors may play also a role, as will be clear from comparing the examples in (217).

Example 217
a. Jan zit voor de televisie.
  Jan sits  in.front.of  the TV.set
  'Jan is watching television.'
b. Jan zit achter zijn computer.
  Jan sits  behind  his computer
  'Jan is working on his computer.'

Although the examples in (217) imply that Jan is situated in similar positions with respect to the two screens, antonymous prepositions are used. The reason for this is that achter is also used to indicate that Jan is operating the reference object. This will be clear from the following examples.

Example 218
a. Jan zit achter het stuur.
  Jan sits  behind  the steering wheel
  'Jan is driving the car.'
b. Jan zit achter de piano.
  Jan sits  behind  the piano
  'Jan is playing the piano.'
c. Jan zit achter de knoppen.
  Jan sits  behind the buttons
  'Jan controls everything.'

      Another preposition that belongs to this group of inherent prepositions is tegenover'opposite'. It differs from the prepositions achter, naast and voor in that it refers not only to the orientation of the reference object but also that of the located object; it expresses that the located object faces the front of the reference object. This can be made clear by means of example (219a). This example refers to the situation in Figure 19A, in which Jan and Peter are facing each other. Of course this situation can also be described by means of example (219b), but the difference between the two is that the orientation of the located object is not relevant in the case of voor; as is shown in Figure 19B, (219b) can be applied to a wider range of situations than (219a).

Example 219
a. Peter staat tegenover Jan.
  Peter stands  opposite  Jan
  'Peter is standing opposite Jan.'
b. Peter staat voor Jan.
  Peter stands  in.front.of  Jan
  'Peter is standing in front of Jan.'

Figure 19: Tegenover'opposite' versus voor'in front of'

In connection with this difference between tegenover and voor, it can be noted that the relation expressed by the former is reflexive, whereas this does not hold for the relation expressed by the latter. This is clear from the fact that we may conclude from (220a) that (220a') holds as well, and vice versa; the difference between the two examples is mainly one of prominence. From (220b), on the other hand, we cannot conclude that (220b') holds.

Example 220
a. Peter staat tegenover Jan.
a'. Jan staat tegenover Peter.
b. Peter staat voor Jan.
b'. Jan staat voor Peter.

It should be noted, however, that there are cases in which the conditions on the use of tegenover seem less stringent than in (219a). Example (221a), for example, seems acceptable, although a tree is normally not construed as an object with a front and a back. One may even use (221b) to refer to a situation in which the front of the car is not directed towards the church. We can perhaps conclude from these examples that only the orientation of the reference object is crucial, and assume that (219a) is a special case. We leave this for future research.

Example 221
a. De oude kersenboom staat tegenover de kerk.
  the old cherry tree  stands  opposite the church
b. Mijn auto staat tegenover de kerk.
  my car  stands  opposite the church
[+]  B.  Prepositions situating the located object with respect to the physical dimensions of the reference object

The discussion in the previous subsection has shown that the interpretation of achter, naast and voor is independent of the dimensional properties of the reference object. This does not hold for all prepositions. The preposition langs'along', for instance, is generally interpreted with respect to the length dimension of the reference object (note in this connection that langs is probably derived from the adjective lang'long'): in terms of vectors, we could say that langs denotes a set of vectors that are more or lesss parallel, that is, are all perpendicular to the exterior of the reference object. Like achter, naast and voor, the preposition langs can be used to denote either a location or a change of location (cf. (222)).

Example 222
a. De vuilnisbakken staan langs de rivier.
  the garbage.cans  stand  along the river
b. De bewoners zetten hun vuilnisbakken langs de rivier.
  the residents  put  their garbage.cans  along the river

Figure 20: Langs'along'

Sometimes the importance of the length dimension of the reference object is weakened. Some examples illustrating this are given in (223). Further, it should be noted that the preposition langs can sometimes also be used directionally; cf. example (263 in Section 1.3.1.3, sub II).

Example 223
a. Jan liep even langs de slager.
  Jan walked  prt  along  the butcherʼs
  'John dropped in at the butcher's.'
b. Jan ging even langs oma.
  Jan went  prt  along grandma
  'Jan paid grandma a visit.'

      Other prepositions that depend on the dimensional properties of the reference object are binnen'inside/within', buiten'outside' and bij'near', which are referred to by Zwart (1997) as topological prepositions. They require that the reference object divide space into an interior and an exterior region. A PP headed by binnen indicates that the located object has a position in the interior region of the reference object, whereas a PP headed by buiten locates it in the exterior region. In this respect, bij is the same as buiten, but it has the additional requirement that the position be in the vicinity of the reference object (where the meaning of “being in the vicinity” is of course contextually determined). In Figure 21, the PPs in (224) denote a position within the grey area.

Example 224
a. Het kasteel staat binnen de stadswallen.
  the castle  stands  inside  the city walls
  'The castle is within the city walls.'
b. Het kasteel staat buiten de stadswallen.
  the castle  stands  outside  the city walls
  'The castle is outside the city walls.'
c. Het kasteel staat bij de stadswallen.
  the castle  stands  near  the city walls

Figure 21: Binnen'inside/within', buiten'outside', bij'near'

      To conclude the discussion of this group of prepositions, it should be noted that it is not easy to work out the idea that these prepositions denote a set of vectors. In the first place, it is not clear what the starting point of the vectors is. Of course, we could make the idealization that the reference object is a point in space, which the vectors take as their starting point, but this would not help us in the case of binnen. Another possibility would be to assume that the positions in the relevant region are defined by means of the shortest vectors from the reference object to the positions in question; cf. Figure 22. This would solve the problem that, despite the fact that the magnitudes of the vectors and are identical, the location of position B but not position C can be properly described by means of (225a), and (b) can be used to describe position C but not position B. This is due to the fact that there is a shorter vector from the exterior of the reference object, which is not part of the denotation of ver buiten but of the denotation of vlak bij, so position C can be properly described by means of (225b).

Example 225
a. B/#C ligt ver buiten de stad.
  B/C  lies  far  outside  the city
  'B/C is far from the city.'
b. C ligt vlak bij de stad.
  lies  close  near  the city
  'C is close to the city.'

Figure 22: Ver buiten/vlak bij de stad'far from/close to the city'

This solution to the problem does not, however, solve the problem that neither the direction nor the magnitude of the vectors denoted by binnen'inside' can be modified. For this reason, it has been assumed that binnen actually involves a null vector as well. Since we can offer no account for the facts that led to this assumption, we have to leave this problem for future research. See Subsection II for the difference between in/uit and binnen/buiten.

[+]  II.  Prepositions that denote the null vector

Prepositions that denote the null vector can be divided in two groups: prepositions that express that (part of) the located object is in the reference object, and prepositions that simply imply some contact between the located and reference objects.

[+]  A.  Prepositions that situate the located object (partly) in the reference object

The prepositions in'in' differs from binnen'inside' in that it requires physical contact between the reference object and the located object, that is, in involves a null vector. This can be made clear for the examples in (226) by means of the pictures in Figure 23. The preposition binnen in (226a) does not imply any physical contact between Jan and the hedge; Jan must just be somewhere in the grey area in Figure 23A; the preposition in in (226b), on the other hand, does require physical contact, so that the situation must be as indicated in Figure 23B.

Example 226
a. Jan zit binnen de haag.
  Jan sits  within  the hedge
b. Jan zit in de haag.
  Jan sits  in  the hedge

Figure 23: Binnen'inside' vs. in'in'

A caveat is in order, however. Example (226a) can be represented by making use of only two dimensions. When we are dealing with a three-dimensional object, on the other hand, the situation is slightly different. Given that it is the preposition in, and not binnen, that is used in the examples in (227), we conclude that the inside of a three-dimensional object is mentally construed as a part of the reference object rather than as its interior region.

Example 227
a. De vogel zit in/*binnen de kooi.
  the bird  sits in/inside  the cage
  'The bird is in the cage.'
b. Jan is in/*binnen zijn kamer.
  Jan is in/inside  his room
  'Jan is in his room.'

      Like in but unlike buiten'outside', uit'out of' implies that there is some physical contact with the reference object. For this reason, buiten can, but uit cannot be used to refer to the situation depicted in Figure 24. Actually, uit cannot be used at all in (228b), since, when there is physical contact with the reference object, in will take precedence over uit; cf. Jan zit in de haag.

Example 228
a. Jan zit buiten de haag.
  Jan sits  outside  the hedge
b. * Jan zit uit de haag.
  Jan sits  out.of  the hedge

Figure 24: Buiten'outside' vs. uit'out of'

Buiten also seems to be preferred in the case of three-dimensional objects. Occasionally, however, uit can be used as well. It is not clear to us under what conditions uit can or cannot be used with three-dimensional objects.

Example 229
a. De vogel zit buiten/*uit zijn kooi.
  the bird  sits  outside/out.of  his cage
  'The bird is outside its cage.'
b. De vogel is ?buiten/uit zijn kooi.
  the bird  is  outside/out.of  his cage
  'The bird is out of its cage.'
c. De pen ligt buiten/uit zijn doos.
  the pencil  lies outside/out.of  his box
  'The pencil is out of its box.'

      The discussion above shows that the preposition buiten is normally preferred to uit with stative verbs of location. Example (230b) shows, however, that the preposition uit is possible if we use a verb of change of location like halen'to get', whereas buiten is not allowed in this context. This is due to the fact that this verb expresses that the contact between the located and reference object is broken. For completenesssake, we show in (230a) that the antonym of halen, stoppen'to put', licenses in only.

Example 230
a. Jan stopt de vogel in/*binnen de haag.
  Jan puts  the bird  in/inside  the hedge
b. Jan haalt de vogel uit/*buiten de haag.
  Jan gets  the bird  out.of/inside  the hedge

      The prepositions in and uit imply physical contact between the located and reference object at some point in time. The preposition in does not imply, however, that the located object is fully physically enclosed by the reference object; this may only be partially the case. Similarly, the preposition uit implies that at least some part of the located object sticks out of the reference object. This can be made clear by means of the examples in (231); the arrows in Figure 25 indicate the points that are relevant for the interpretation of the examples in (231).

Example 231
a. De naald zit in het speldenkussen.
  the needle  sits  in the pincushion
  'The needle sticks in the pincushion.'
b. De naald steekt uit het speldenkussen.
  the needle  sticks  out.of  the pincushion
  'The needle sticks out of the pincushion.'

Figure 25: In'in' and uit'out of' (locational)

In and uit differ in that the former is compatible with full encompassment, whereas the latter necessarily implies partial encompassment. This is clear from the fact that the adverbial phrase helemaal'completely' can be used with in, but not with uit (unless we are dealing with an overstatement). Note that, as expected, substituting bijna helemaal'nearly completely' for helemaal in (231b) will give rise to a fully acceptable result. A modifier like een klein stukje'a small piece', which expresses that the encompassment is not complete, is possible with both PPs.

Example 232
a. De naald zit helemaal/een klein stukje in het speldenkussen.
  the needle  sits  completely/a small piece  in the pincushion
  'The needle sticks completely/partly in the pincushion.'
b. De naald steekt ??helemaal/een klein stukje uit het speldenkussen.
  the needle  sticks  completely/a small piece  out.of  the pincushion
  'The needle sticks completely/partly out of the pincushion.'

      The examples in (230) have already shown that the prepositions in and uit can also be used to denote a change of location; cf. Figure 26. Some more examples are given in (233): in (233a) the reference object refers to the new position of the located object, and in (233b) it refers to its original one. In this case, the adverbial phrase helemaal'completely' can be readily used with both PPs; helemaal in (233b) expresses that the contact between the located and the reference object is completely broken.

Example 233
a. Jan steekt de naald (helemaal/een klein stukje) in het speldenkussen.
  Jan puts  the needle  completely/a small piece  into  the pincushion
  'Jan puts the needle (completely/partly) into the pincushion.'
b. Jan haalt de naald (helemaal/een klein stukje) uit het speldenkussen.
  Jan gets  the needle  completely/a small piece  out.of  the pincushion
  'Jan gets the needle (completely/partly) out of the pincushion.'

Figure 26: In'in' and uit'out of' (change of location)

The preposition door in a sense combines the meanings of in and uit. In (234a), the PP door het speldenkussen expresses that the located object sticks both in and out of the reference object; in other words both points indicated by means of the arrows in Figure 27A are relevant. In (234b), the PP indicates that the located object ends up in the position in Figure 27A as the result of Janʼs action; this is shown in Figure 27B.

Example 234
a. De naald steekt door het speldenkussen.
  the needle  sticks  through  the pincushion
b. Jan steekt de naald door het speldenkussen.
  Jan sticks  the needle  through  the pincushion

Figure 27: Door'through'

      The prepositions in and uit, on the one hand, and door, on the other, seem to differ in that the former can only be used in constructions involving (change of) location, whereas the latter can also occur in directional constructions. This is clear from the examples in (219) involving the verb of traversing rijden'to drive'; cf. Section 1.1.2.2. Whereas the examples in (235a) are marginal at best, (235b) is fully acceptable. The primed examples show that the intended directional meanings can (also) be expressed by using the adpositions in question as postpositions.

Example 235
a. ?? De auto is in/uit de autowasserette gereden.
  the car  is into/out.of  the car wash  driven
  'The car has driven into/out of the car wash.'
a'. De auto is de autowasserette in/uit gereden.
b. De auto is door de autowasserette gereden.
  the car  is through  the car wash  driven
  'The car has driven through the car wash.'
b'. De auto is de autowasserette door gereden.

There is, however, a slight meaning difference between (235b) and (235b'), although it is hard to pinpoint it. Perhaps another example can clarify it. When Jan is driving on an unfenced path which at a certain point ends at a meadow, and Jan drives right through the meadow to a path on the other side of it, one would use the preposition rather than the postposition door, as is shown in the (a)-examples in (236). The contrast becomes even clearer if the reference object is an entity with a relatively small size, like a puddle of rainwater. However, if the unfenced path enters a wood, and Jan drives right through it, one can also use the postposition, as is shown in (236b'). This may suggest that in order to use door as a postposition the located object must be completely encompassed by the reference object, whereas this need not be the case if it is used as a preposition. We leave this to future research.

Example 236
a. Jan is door het weiland/de regenplas gereden.
  Jan is through the meadow/puddle  driven
  'Jan has driven through the meadow/puddle.'
a'. # Jan is het weiland/de regenplas door gereden.
b. Jan is door het bos gereden.
  Jan is through the wood  driven
  'Jan has driven through the woods.'
b'. Jan is het bos door gereden.
[+]  B.  Prepositions that imply contact between the located and the reference object

Whereas in, uit and door imply that the located object is at least partly located in the reference object, the prepositions aan, op, over and tegen in (237) merely require that there be some contact between the two.

Example 237
a. Er hangt een lamp aan het plafond.
  there  hangs  a painting  on the ceiling
b. Er zit een vlek op het plafond.
  there  is  a stain  on the ceiling
c. Er ligt een kleed over de tafel.
  there  lies  a cloth  over the table
d. Er staat een ladder tegen de muur.
  there  stands  a ladder  against the wall

The four prepositions differ with respect to the nature of the contact that is implied. The preposition aan is compatible with minimal contact: the lamp in (237a) can be connected to the ceiling by means of its wire only. The preposition op suggests more extensive contact between the located and the reference object; the stain in (237b), of course, has maximal contact with the ceiling. The preposition over also suggests more extensive contact, but now it is the reference object that must have more extensive contact with the located object.

Figure 28: Aan'on', op'on', over'over'

Note that it has also been claimed that the preposition aan expresses minimal distance, not minimal contact. Examples that would favor this are given in (238): these examples do not imply physical contact between the ship and the quay, or the house and the lake. If this is the proper characterization then aan must be assumed to denote a set of vectors which are smaller than a certain contextually determined magnitude, just like bij'near' shown in (224); aan and bij differ, however, in that only the former is compatible with physical contact.

Example 238
a. Het schip ligt aan de kade.
  the ship  lies  on the quay
  'The ship is tied up to the quay.'
b. Het huis staat aan het meer.
  the house  stands  on the lake
  'The house stands near the lake.'

      The examples in (237b&c) perhaps suggest that op and over imply some notion of full contact. That this is not the case will be clear from the examples in (239); example (239a) suggests that only the bottom of the lamp is in contact with the table (cf. Figure 7A), and (239b) is compatible with a situation in which the chair is only partially covered by the coat.

Example 239
a. De lamp staat op de tafel.
  the lamp  stands  on the table
b. De jas hangt over de stoel.
  the coat  hangs  over the chair

      In (237a-c) the PPs headed by aan, op and over refer to a location. The examples in (240) show that these PPs can also be used to indicate a change of location.

Example 240
a. Jan hangt een lamp aan het plafond.
  Jan hangs  a painting  on the ceiling
b. Jan zet een lamp op de tafel.
  Jan puts  a lamp  on the table
c. Jan legt een kleed over de tafel.
  Jan puts  a cloth  over the table

Note that op in (240b) necessarily means “on top of”. This is, however, not the case in the examples in (241). The verb brengen'to bring' in (241a) can be considered a movement verb and the verb maken in (241b) functions as a verb of creation.

Example 241
a. Jan brengt de verf op het doek.
  Jan puts  the paint  on the canvas
b. Jan maakte een vlek op het plafond.
  Jan made  a stain  on the ceiling

      The preposition tegen'against' is more difficult to characterize. It is often used in the sense of “touching the side surface of the reference object”, as in (237d), but resultative constructions such as (242) are possible as well.

Example 242
a. Jan gooide een pannenkoek tegen het plafond.
  Jan threw  a pancake  against the ceiling
b. Jan sloeg Peter tegen de grond.
  Jan hit  Peter against the floor

These examples suggest that tegen means (or may also mean) something like “touching the reference object while exerting force on it”, which would fit in nicely with the non-locational uses of tegen in examples such as (243).

Example 243
a. Jan zwom tegen de stroom.
  Jan swam  against  the current
b. Marie protesteerde met kracht tegen dat besluit.
  Marie protested  with force  against  that decision
c. Marie vocht hard tegen een ernstige griep.
  Marie fought  hard against  a serious flu

If the notion of exerting force is indeed appropriate in the characterization of the preposition tegen, it may be the case that tegen and aan act as antonyms with respect to the direction of the exerted force (in at least some cases). The examples in (244) may make this clear. The verbs duwen'to push' and trekken'to pull' both express that force is exerted on the complement of the (non-spatial) prepositional complement of the verb: in the first case the force is directed towards it, and only the preposition tegen can be used; in the latter case, on the other hand, the direction of the force is reversed, and only the preposition aan is possible. This is depicted in Figure 29, in which the arrow indicates the direction of the force exerted by Jan.

Example 244
a. Jan duwde tegen/*aan het hek.
  Jan  pushed  against/on  the gate
b. Jan trok aan/*tegen het hek.
  Jan  pulled  on/against  the gate

Figure 29: Tegen 'against' and aan 'on'

References:
  • Zwarts, Joost1997Vectors as relative positions: a compositional semantics of modified PPsJournal of Semantics1457-86
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