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1.1.2 The meaning of prepositions

As is clear from the examples above, many prepositions refer to location. The basic meaning of prepositions is static, that is, they just describe a part-whole relation between two locations. On a more abstract or metaphorical level, prepositions are not only linked to geographical location, but they may also be linked to, for example, emotional location, as in: ‘He was in a rage.’ In addition, temporal expressions are frequently made up of prepositions. Prepositions tend to express a relation between two entities, for example a containment relation, involving stretches in space or time.


The meaning of prepositions is discussed with the help of a concrete example. Consider the following sentence:

Triene waas in dän Tuun.
Triene was in the garden
Triene was in the garden

The preposition in ‘in’ in denotes a two place relation, that is, it relates two entities to each other, Triene and the garden. Triene is a person, but she also has a location. Thus, the preposition expresses that Triene’s location is contained in or subsumed in the location of the garden. The preposition expresses a part-whole relation. The preposition can express containment in various dimensions. The following example involves temporal containment:

Die Fersoundenge fon ju Hauenge geskaach in’t achttiende Jierhundert.
the silting of the harbour happened in the eighteenth century
The silting of the harbour took place in the 18th century.

The sentence expresses that the temporal location of the silting is contained in or subsumed within the temporal location of the eighteenth century. Prepositions can refer to relations involving location, time, mental states, cause and agency, comparison, direction, possession, purpose, source and so on. The following example features the preposition in ‘in’ again, which is used here to express a relation between an individual and his age:

Hie is in dien Oaler.
he is in your age
He is about as old as you.

The sentence above expresses that the age of the subject is subsumed within an age stretch which also subsumes the age of the adressee. The following example features the preposition truch ‘by’, which is used for cause and agency:

An dusse Stede is ju Gruunde truch dän Froast apweked.
at this place is the ground by the frost weakened
At this place, the ground has been weakened by the frost.

The preposition truch ‘by’ expresses a causal relation between the ground and the frost, so that the event of the weakening of the ground is causally subsumed under the freezing event.

Prepositions (and adpositions in general) usually correspond to words. There are, however, complex prepositions as well, that is, prepositions which are complex expressions constructed with the aid of simple prepositions and nouns. Examples include: in de Midde fon ‘in the middle of’, mäd Hälpe fon ‘with help of’, appenaite fon ‘in the closeness of > close to’, dussiede (fon) ‘this side of’, juunsiede (fon) ‘the other side of’, noudersiede (fon) ‘the North side of’, and so on. Prepositions in general regularly express a logical relation, such as containment, between two entities along a specific dimension. The dimension involved can be location, time, causation, and so on. The meaning of other prepositions can be described in a similar fashion. It may be appreciated that the meaning of adpositions is quite abstract.

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