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Classification of PPs: Postpositions

A postposition is an adposition that follows its complement. Postpositions comprise of two structural types:

  • NP with PP

    [(PP)[(NP) x][(POSTP) y]]

  • R-pronoun + preposition


The form of the postposition mostly corresponds to that of its prepositional counterpart, but may be different (e.g. mee with, which corresponds to met, tot to, which corresponds to toe, and also vir for, which corresponds with voor), or represents a form which is used exclusively as a postposition, such as heen gone, away (compare Ponelis 1979:172). The sentence below is an example of the first structural type, i.e. NP with PP:

Example 1

gesondheidsdienste die wêreld oor
health.services the world over.POSTP
health services across the world

These two sentences below, on the other hand, are examples of the second structural type, i.e. the R-pronouns (or locative pronouns) daar there and waar where conjuncting with an adposition, forming a new postposition.

Example 2

a. Hy sit daar·op.
he sit there·on.POSTP
He is sitting on it.
b. die stoel waar·op ek sit
the chair that.REL·on.POSTP I sit
the chair I am sitting on

Three aspects of postpositions are discussed, namely i) the meaning of prepositions, ii) the mapping of prepositional arguments onto syntactic structure and iii) the combinatorial properties of prepositions.

[+]The meaning of postpositions

The most common postpositions in Afrikaans, are deur through, heen gone, oor over and ten spyt despite(Ponelis 1979:176)

Postpositions involve a relation between a relational entity, such as a noun phrase (NP), and a concept such as direction, time or contrast, as illustrated by the examples below.

Example 3

Kerneels is die berge in.
Kerneels go.PST the mountains in .POSTP
Kerneels has gone into the mountains.

In the example above, the postposition in in/into denotes a relation between two elements: a direction (die berge the mountains) and an entity (Kerneels).

In the example below, the postposition deur through denotes a relation between two elements: a period (my lewe my life) and an entity (ek I).

Example 4

Ek het my lewe deur perd gery.
I have.AUX my life through.POSTP horse ride.PST
I have been riding horse all my life.

In this example, the postposition ten spyt in spite of denotes a relation of contrast between two elements: a basis of comparison (leë beloftes empty promises) and an entity ('n minderheidskoalisie a minority coalition).

Example 5

Hulle het, leë beloftes ten spyt, 'n minderheidskoalisie bekonkel.
they have.AUX empty promises at.the regret.POSTP a minority.coalition rigged
They have, in spite of empty promises, rigged a minority coalition.
[+]Mapping of postpositional arguments onto syntactic structure

A postposition has two arguments: a relational concept and an entity. The relational argument is realised as the adposition phrase (PP) that functions as the complement to the postposition. The other argument, the entity, is realised external to the postpositional phrase, in the position of subject or object.

The mapping of meaning onto syntactic structure can be illustrated by means of a concrete example.

Example 6

Ek moet die blou berg oor.
I must.AUX.MOD the blue mountain over.POSTP
I must cross the blue mountain.

The postposition expresses a relation between two elements which participate in a directional relation. The directional argument die blou berg oor is expressed syntactically as the PP. The PP, or the NP which forms part of it, can be preposed out of the postpositional phrase (the actual title of a folk song):

Example 7

Die blou berg moet ek oor.
the blue mountain must.AUX.MOD I over.POSTP
The blue mountain I must cross.

The external argument of the preposition is identical to the external argument of the postposition: It is the entity ek I, which is realised as the external argument in the subject position of the clause.

[+]Combinatorial properties of postpositions

The complement of a postposition is generally a PP. This creates the possibility of optional circumpositions, in which the preposition forming part of the said PP is omitted, as can be seen in the following two examples (the complement is bracketed in each case):

Example 8

a. [teen die berg] op
[against.CIRCP the mountain] up.CIRCP
going up the mountain
b. [die berg] op
[the mountain] up.POSTP
up the mountain
In certain cases, the preposition may either be omitted or replaced by another, as in these examples:
Example 9

a. Henk vaar met hulle vlot [die rivier] af.
Henk cruises with.PREP their raft [the river] down.POSTP.
Henk is cruising down the river in their raft.
b. Die vlot dryf [in die rivier] af.
the raft drifts [in the river] down.POSTP
The raft is drifting down the river.
c. Hulle vertrek douvoordag [met die rivier] af.
they depart dew.before.dawn [with the river] down.POSTP
They depart at the crack of dawn, going down the river.
d. Noodwalle het oral [langs die river] af gebreek.
emergency.embankments have.AUX everywhere [along.CIRCP the river] down.CIRCP broke.PST
Temporary dams had broken everywhere, going down along the river.
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
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