Language evolution and the icëlani

Posted by Hans-Werner Hatting on 14:14 7/19/02

In reply to: Language evolution and the icëlani posted by Glenn Kempf on 13:22 7/18/02


Glenn wrote

"A separate issue I wanted to ask about: the idea of "adpositions"--words that can serve as either prepositions or postpositions (sometimes depending on the context or dialect). I've come across examples of these in other people's conlangs, but not in any "real-world" languages."
One such language is German. German generally has prepositions, but it also has some adpositions which can be used as pre- and as postpositions. An example is "entlang":

"(a)Die Straße entlang standen Zuschauer. = (b)Entlang der Straße standen Zuschauer" ("Along the street spectators were standing").

Note that the rection of the adposition changes from accusative in (a) to dative in (b).

Another example is "wegen":

"Er tut das des Geldes wegen." - "Er tut das wegen des Geldes". ("He's doing it for the money.")

Here, "wegen" as a postposition has a more limited range of use, meaning mostly "for", while "wegen" as preposition also (and mainly) means "because of".

The position of "entlang" and "wegen" is independent of word order, but the reason for German having such pre- and postpositions seems to be (at least, that is the standard explanation offered in the Grammars) is that German has varying word order: Main clauses are verb - second, that is, normally SVO("Robert repariert den Zaun." - "Robert is mending the fence".), but if the clause begins with something else (say, an Adverbial phrase (AP), the order is AP VSO ("Heute repariert Robert den Zaun" - "Today Robert is mending the fence."). Subordinate clauses are SOV ("Ich weiss, dass Robert (heute) den Zaun repariert." - "I know, that Robert is mending the fence (today).") Questions are VSO ("Repariert Robert den Zaun?" - "Is Robert mending the fence."). Orders with O - S are very marked:

Main clause (OVS): "Den Zaun repariert Robert." ~ "Concerning the fence, Robert is mending it."
Subordinate clause (OSV): "Ich weiß, daß den Zaun Robert repariert." ~ "Concerning the fence, I know that Robert is mending it."
Interrogative clause (VOS): "Repariert den Zaun Robert?" - "Is it Robert who is mending the fence."

So German has all possible word orders, with each of them having a clearly distinct use.

Another example for an adposition which can be used pre and post is Russian "radi", but this is more of a historical case. "radi" was loaned as a postposition from an Iranian language. As it was the only postposition in Russian, it changed to preposition, so today you normally say "radi boga" - "for God's sake", while in older stages of Russian "boga radi" was the norm, and there was a period when both uses occurred alongside.

Hope that didn't get to long.
Best regards,

Mark responds:

I knew some exotic language would turn out to have this feature. :)

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