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Preposition phrase arguments

Some verbs require a preposition phrase as complement. The preposition and the verb itself form a fixed collocation in most cases, and do not allow for a different verb or a different preposition with a similar meaning. The clause can consist of a subject, verb and prepositional object only, in which case we deal with an intransitive or unaccusative prepositional object verb, as illustrated by the examples in (1). Otherwise, the clause can consist of a subject, verb, direct object and prepositional object, in which case we deal with a transitive prepositional object verb, as illustrated by the examples in (2).

Example 1

a. Mense spioeneer op mekaar.
people spy.PRS on one.another
People spy on one another.
b. Ek gaan nooit weer kla oor my bure nie.
I go.LINK never again complain.INF about my neighbours PTCL.NEG
I am never going to complain about my neighbours again.
c. Hy het oor ons groot boerboel gestruikel.
he have.AUX over our big mastiff stumble.PST
He stumbled over our big mastiff.
d. Jou rug moet net herstel van die operasie.
your back must.AUX.MOD just recover.INF from the operation
Your back should just recover from the operation.
Example 2

a. Hierdie bepaling beskerm skole teen groot verliese.
this provision protect.PRS schools against major losses
This provision safeguards schools against major losses.
b. Help jouself uit die yskas met 'n dop.
help.IMP yourself out.of the fridge with a drink
Help yourself with a drink from the fridge.

Prepositional objects should be distinguished from open-ended combinations of verbs (intransitive, transitive, or other) with preposition phrases used adverbially, where the combination of verb and preposition phrase is unconstrained, as shown by example (3). In (3a), the preposition teen against can not be replaced, since it is part of a fixed verb+preposition construction, but in (3b), the adverbial use of preposition phrases that communicate circumstances with the verb beskerm to guard/protect allows for variation in the preposition. The adverbial preposition phrases are not part of the conventionalised grammatical behaviour of the verb. The verb beskerm can be used as a regular transitive verb, or as a transitive prepositional object verb to specifically indicate the threat against which protection is given.

Example 3

a. Hy beskerm die armes teen verdrukking.
he protect.PRS the poor.PL against oppression
He protects the poor against oppression.
[Prepositional object use]
a.' *Hy beskerm die armes van verdrukking
he protect.PRS the poor.PL from oppression
He protects the poor for oppression.
b. Hy beskerm die slapendes tydens die nag.
he protect.PRS the sleeping.PL during the night
He protects the sleeping during the night.
[Adverbial use (time)]
b.' Hy beskerm jou motor by die winkelsentrum.
he protect.PRS your car at the shopping.mall
He protects your car at the shopping mall.
[Adverbial use (place)]
b.'' Hy beskerm jou eiendom met 'n vuurwapen.
he protect.PRS your property with a firearm
He protects your property with a firearm.
[Adverbial use (manner)]

The prepositional object constructions should also be distinguished from particle verb constructions, in particular the cases where the particle is preposition-like, as shown by the contrasting pairs in example (4). The particle is incorporated into the verb when the verb occurs in the verb-final field, e.g. uit out in (4b) and na after in (4c), or otherwise occupies the verb-final field on its own, with any possible direct objects of the verb preceding the particle. The particles are thus placed after NP objects, whereas the prepositional object with its head preposition, e.g. na in (4a) and (4b), behaves like a regular preposition phrase with the preposition preceding its NP complement. A preposition does not get incorporated into the past tense form of the verb like a particle.

Example 4

a. Alle firmas streef na maksimum wins.
all firms strive.PRS after.PREP maximum profit
All firms strive for maximum profit.
a.' Alle firmas het na maksimum wins gestreef.
all firms have.AUX after.PREP maximum profit strive.PST
All firms strove for maximum profit.
b. Ons sien uit na volgende jaar.
we see.PRS out.PREP.PTCL to.PREP next year
We look forward to next year.
b.' Ons het na volgende jaar uit+gesien.
we have.AUX to.PREP next year out.PREP.PTCL+see.PST
We looked forward to next year.
c. Die dosent sien die werkkaarte na.
the lecturer see.PRS the worksheets after.PREP.PTCL
The lecturer marks the worksheets.
c.' Die dosent het die werkkaarte na+gesien.
the lecturer have.AUX the worksheets after.PREP.PTCL+see.PST
The lecturer marked the worksheets.
TK, adjusted
[+]Syntactic and semantic characteristics of the prepositional object construction

Prepositional object constructions generally consist of fixed combinations of verbs and prepositions. Semantically similar verbs cannot necessarily combine with the same preposition, and likewise, the same verb cannot usually combine with semantically similar prepositions. By way of illustration, the verbs sorg to care and omsien to look after are semantically very close, yet they combine with different prepositions, vir for and na to/after respectively. If these two verbs are interchanged without the conventional preposition, the result is ungrammatical. Likewise, if the two prepositions are replaced by other prepositions that are reasonably similar to the conventional choice, the result is ungrammatical as well. These permutations are illustrated by the examples in (5).

Example 5

a. Ek het vir my kinders gesorg.
I have.AUX for my children care.PST
I took care of my children.
TK, adjusted
a.' *Ek het vir my kinders omgesien.
I have.AUX for my children after.look.PST
to mean: I looked after my children.
a.'' *Ek het aan my kinders gesorg.
I have.AUX to my children care.PST
to mean: I took care for my children.
b. Ek het na my kinders omgesien.
I have.AUX to my children after.look.PST
I looked after my children.
b.' *Ek het na my kinders gesorg.
I have.AUX to my children care.PST
to mean: I took care for my children.
b.'' *Ek het agter my kinders omgesien.
I have.AUX after my children after.look.PST
to mean: I looked after my children.

The verb and preposition form a semantic unit, and often show signs of semantic bleaching, where the meaning of the individual verb and especially the preposition becomes very general, compared to the use of the verb or preposition independently in other contexts. Example (6) shows that the spatial meaning of op on is not prominent when used in fixed combination with the verb wag to wait in (6a), in contrast to its adverbial use in (6b). A number of the verb+preposition combinations are synonymous with other verbs that are used transitively, without the preposition, which attests to the fact that these prepositions do not always contribute their full lexical meanings in combinations, as shown by the verb verwag to expect in (6c).

Example 6

a. Die winkelassistent wag op die klante.
the shop.assistant wait.PRS on the clients
The shop assistant waits for the clients.
b. Die winkelassistent wag op die verkoopsvloer.
the shop.assistant wait.PRS on the shopping.floor
The shop assistant waits on the shopping vloer.
c. Die winkelassistent verwag die klante.
the shop.assistant expect.PRS the clients
The shop assistant expects the clients.
[+]Distinction between prepositional object and prepositional adverbial construction

The prepositional object functions as an argument of the verb and has a thematic role similar to nominal arguments. For some verbs, the prepositional object is compulsory, otherwise the result is ungrammatical, similar to the compulsory nature of the direct object of a transitive verb. Compulsory combinations are illustrated by example (7).

Example 7

a. Hulle teer op die staat.
they depend.PRS on the state
They depend on government handouts.
(Ponelis 1979:217)
a.' *Hulle teer.
they depend.PRS
They depend.
b. Dié soort oortyd druis in teen arbeidswetgewing.
this type overtime clash.PRS in.PREP.PTCL against.PREP labour.law
This type of overtime runs counter to labour law.
b.' *Dié soort oortyd druis in.
this type overtime clash.PRS in.PREP.PTCL
This type of overtime runs counter.

In the case of other prepositional object verbs, the prepositional object is optional, and can be omitted in order to leave an intransitive verb. However, even in these cases, the preposition itself cannot be omitted and the nominal complement of the preposition retained, as is illustrated by example (8).

Example 8

a. Hy stry heeldag met my.
he argue.PRS whole.day with me
He argues with me the whole day.
(Ponelis 1979:217)
a.' Hy stry heeldag.
he argue.PRS whole.day
He argues the whole day.
a.'' *Hy stry heeldag my.
he argue.PRS whole.day me
He argues me the whole day.
b. Die bure kla oor die lawaai.
the neighbours complain.PRS about the noise
The neighbours complain about the noise.
b.' ...dan kla die arme bloedjies weer.
then complain.PRS the poor little.things again
...then those little bastards complain again.
b.'' *Die bure kla die lawaai.
the neighbours complain.PRS the noise
The neighbours complain the noise.

Adverbial preposition phrases, in contrast to prepositional object phrases, can be added freely to any clause, as long as they express a plausible location or other meaning that can apply to the situation represented in the clause. Adverbial preposition phrases are optional, however, and can usually be omitted without compromising the grammaticality of the sentence.

There are a couple of distinctions between prepositional object constructions and adverbial phrases that help to highlight the contrast. A locative adverbial can be replaced by an adverbial pro-form such as hier here or daar there, without the use of the preposition, whereas the same replacement in the case of prepositional objects requires the use of R-pronouns, where the proform and the preposition form a compound. The contrast is exemplified in (9). The same distinction is present when a cleft construction is based on a prepositional object construction and adverbial phrase respectively, as exemplified by (10).

Example 9

a. Hulle kla by die dosent.
the complain.PRS at the lecturer
They complain to the lecturer.
[Adverbial preposition phrase]
a.' Hulle kla daar.
the complain.PRS there
They complain there.
a.'' *Hulle kla daarby.
the complain.PRS there.at
to mean: They complain at that place.
b. Hulle kla oor die handboek.
the complain.PRS over the textbook
They complain about the textbook.
[Prepositional object]
b.' Hulle kla daaroor.
they complain.PRS there.over
They complain about that.
b.'' *Hulle kla daar.
they complain.PRS there
to mean: They complain about that.
Example 10

a. Dit is by die dosent waar hulle kla.
it be.PRS at the lecturer where they complain.PRS
It is to the lecturer that they complain.
b. Dit is die handboek waaroor hulle kla.
it be.PRS the textbook which.about they complain.PRS
It is the textbook about which they complain. / It is the textbook that they complain about.
[+]Distinction between prepositional object and particle verb construction

The prepositions in prepositional object constructions are similar to the prepositional particles in particle verb constructions, in the sense that the association between verb and preposition is very close and fixed in most cases. However, the prepositional object construction behaves syntactically like a preposition phrase, and therefore the preposition and its nominal complement form a syntactic unit and can be separated from the verb by other constituents. The entire prepositional complement can be placed in the middle field (MF) of the Afrikaans clause, or can otherwise be placed in the post-verbal field (PV), after the verb-final (VF) position. The preposition does not attach to the main verb, and the placement of the preposition phrase is not dependent on the position of the main verb. The two possible syntactic positions of the prepositional object phrase are illustrated by the examples in (11).

Example 11

a. ...nadat die buurman glo oor die musiek gekla het.
[(CNJ) nadat] [(MF) die buurman glo oor die musiek] [(VF) gekla het]
after the neighbour apparently about the music complain.PST have.AUX
...after the neighbour apparently complained about the music.
b. Die publiek het ook gekla oor die geraas.
[(CI) die publiek] [(V2) het] [(MF) ook] [(VF) gekla] [(PV) oor die geraas]
the public have.AUX also complain.PST about the noise
The public apparently also complained about the noise.

Particle verb constructions are verbs that combine with a range of particles, some of which are similar to prepositions, but others are similar to other word classes, like nouns or adverbs. The preposition-like particles do not head preposition phrases, and are independent of the nominal complement of transitive particle verbs. The particles are consistently placed in the verb-final position. They occupy the verb-final position on their own when the main verb is in the first (V1) or second (V2) position of the independent clause, but if the main verb moves to the final position, the particle and verb form a compound word. The syntactic positions of the particle and verb are illustrated by the examples in (12).

Example 12

a. Ek kla jou aan.
[(CI) ek] [(V2) kla] [(MF) jou] [(VF) aan]
I charge you PREP.PTCL
I charge you.
b. Ek gaan jou aan+kla.
[(CI) ek] [(V2) gaan] [(MF) jou] [(VF) aankla]
I go.LINK you PREP.PTCL+charge
I am going to charge you.
c. Meer as een beskuldigde kan ook saam aan+ge·kla word.
[(CI) meer as een beskuldigde] [(V2) kan] [(MF) ook saam] [(VF) aangekla word]
more than one accused can.AUX.MOD also together PREP.PTCL+PST·charge be.AUX.PASS.PRS
More than one accused can be charged together.

The distributional contrast between the prepositional object and the verbal article is best exemplified in those cases where the two combine, e.g. with the combination afhang van depend on, where afhang to depend is a particle verb consisting of af+hang off+hang, and the preposition van from heads the prepositional object phrase. The examples in (13) show the syntactic differences between the two constructions. The critical observation that the syntactic analysis highlights is that the prepositional object phrase remains a syntactic unit, irrespective of its placement in the middle field or postverbal field. The particle verb is a single word when both particle and verb occupy the verb-final position, but is separated into parts when the verb has to occupy the verb-second position in the absence of an auxiliary verb, leaving the particle in the verb-final position on its own. This remains the case even if the middle field is empty, and the verb-second and verb-final positions are adjacent, as in (13c).

Example 13

a. Sukses sal af+hang van die regte plaaslike vennoot.
[(CI) sukses] [(V2) sal] [(VF) afhang] [(PV) van die regte plaaslike vennoot]
success will.AUX.MOD off.PREP.PTCL+hang.INF from.PREP the right local partner
Success will depend on the right local partner.
b. Sukses sal van die regte plaaslike vennoot af+hang.
[(CI) sukses] [(V2) sal] [(MF) van die regte plaaslike vennoot] [(VF) afhang]
success will.AUX.MOD from.PREP the right local partner off.PREP.PTCL+hang.INF
Success will depend on the right local partner.
c. Sukses hang af van die regte plaaslike vennoot.
[(CI) sukses] [(V2) hang] [(VF) af] [(PV) van die regte plaaslike vennoot]
success hang.PRS off.PREP.PTCL from.PREP the right local partner
Success depends on the right local partner.
d. Sukses hang van die regte plaaslike vennoot af.
[(CI) sukses] [(V2) hang] [(MF) van die regte plaaslike vennoot] [(VF) af]
success hang.PRS from.PREP the right local partner off.PREP.PTCL
Success depends on the right local partner.
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
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