14.523, Review: Typology: Newman, ed. (2002)
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Subject: 14.523, Review: Typology: Newman, ed. (2002)
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Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 19:18:43 +0000
From: Yura Lander <land_yu at pisem.net>
Subject: The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying
-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 19:18:43 +0000
From: Yura Lander <land_yu at pisem.net>
Subject: The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying
Newman, John, ed. (2002) The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and
Lying. John Benjamins, hardback ISBN 90-272-2957-0 (Eur.) /
1-58811-204-7 (US), xii+409pp, Typological Studies in Language 51.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-2677.html
Yury A. Lander, Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow
In the Preface to ''The Linguistics of Giving'', Newman noted that
giving ''compares, in its basicness, with other human behaviours such
as walking, sitting, standing, talking, listening, touching, eating,
drinking, feeding, sleeping, helping etc.'' (Newman 1998: viii). This
list looked like a plan for future research, and ''The Linguistics of
Sitting, Standing, and Lying'' supports this hypothesis. Similar to
Newman 1998, the present collection of papers provides a discussion of
one of the most prominent (both in language and in human experience)
lexical and semantic domains, in this case the domain of postures and
The volume consists of a preface, 15 papers, and indexes of authors,
languages and subjects.
The role of an introduction is played by John Newman's informative ''A
cross-linguistic overview of the posture verbs 'sit', 'stand', and
'lie''' (pp. 1-24), which partly sets the mood of most other papers
(and not surprisingly is actively cited there). Newman's goal here is
to describe typical (although certainly not indispensable) syntactic
and semantic characteristics of posture verbs (e.g., stativity and
intransitivity), and to show the ways in which the semantics and/or
functions of basic verbs of posture can be further extended. Both
formal characteristics of posture verbs and their possible semantic
extensions are considered to be related to the basic experience of the
The second paper of the collection, namely ''Semantics and
combinatorics of 'sit', 'stand', and 'lie' in Lao'' by N.J. Enfield
(pp. 25-41) opens the core part of the volume, which is concerned with
posture verbs in concrete languages. While discussing various
syntactic constructions with Lao basic posture verbs and their
possible interpretations (especially, in respect to the aspect), this
paper is also an attempt to draw linguists' attention to the culture-
and language-specific nature of the relevant linguistic phenomena.
John Newman and Toshiko Yamaguchi in their ''Action and state
interpretations of 'sit' in Japanese and English'' (pp. 43-59) compare
the aspectual behavior of English SIT and its Japanese quasi-synonym
SUWARU. Though it has been claimed that (unlike English) ''Japanese is
a language where posture verbs are generally lexicalized in the
'getting into a state' type'' (Talmy 1985: 86) instead of being purely
stative, the authors try to show that the inherent stativity of the
sitting posture is well reflected not only in English but also in
The next paper is Sally Rice's ''Posture and existence predicates in
Dene Suline (Chipewyan)'' (pp. 61-78). [For technical reasons, the
name of the language is simplified here.] This is a collation of basic
posture predicates of a certain Athapascan language according to
various morphological, semantic and syntactic parameters. The
comparison is intended to demonstrate that these predicates form
''experientally-based posture continuum'' 'stand'>'sit'>'lie' (the
idea originally proposed in Newman's introductory paper).
''Posture verbs in two Tibeto-Burman languages of Nepal'' by Michael
Noonan and Karen Grunow-Harsta (pp. 79-101) is devoted to the
expression of postures in Chantyal and Magar. The data presented in
this paper show that in spite of the fact that these two languages are
genetically related and are spoken in the same area of Nepal, the
means of expressing posture concepts in Chantyal and Magar are rather
different, as different are requirements to the specification of
postures and extensions of posture verbs.
Maarten Lemmens (''The semantic network of Dutch posture verbs'';
pp. 103-139) concentrates on the uses of the verbs ZITTEN 'to sit',
LIGGEN 'to lie' and STAAN 'to stand' in Dutch. Lemmens distinguishes
between manifold meanings of these verbs, which are all argued,
however, to be based on ''image schematic abstractions based on an
anthropocentric prototype'' (p. 132).
Raquel Guiardello-Damian's ''The syntax and semantics of posture forms
in Trumai'' (pp. 141-177) focuses on the semantics and syntax of
''Spatial Configuration forms'' in Trumai, a genetically isolated
language spoken in Brazil. These lexical items, which include mainly
posturals, turn out to be used not only as basic predicates but also
as auxiliaries, yet without any considerable semantic bleaching.
Some more grammaticalized uses of posture verbs are described in ''Men
stand, women sit: On the grammaticalization of posture verbs in Papuan
languages, its bodily basis and cultural correlates'' by Alan Rumsey
(pp. 179-211). The author discusses in details data from two Papuan
languages, namely Enga and Ku Waru. Both these languages display
interesting oppositions between various existential verbs, some of
which have also more specific posture meanings. While pointing out the
differences and similarities between the systems under discussion and
comparing Engu and Ku Waru with a number of other Papuan languages,
Rumsey attempts to partly provide a rationale of these oppositions,
linking them to semantic classifications of nominals and/or their
Cliff Goddard and Jean Harkins (''Posture, location, and states of
being in two Central Australian languages; pp. 213-238) overview
various constructions with (originally) posture verbs in Arrernte and
two dialects of the Western Desert language. Interestingly, although
the languages discussed in this paper employ some posture verbs in
more or less the same functions (including highly grammaticalized
ones, such as the copula function), they are different in which
posture verbs are ''chosen'' for these functions.
The Australian theme is continued by Nicholas Reid in his ''Sit right
down the back: Serialized posture verbs in Ngan'gityemerri and other
Northern Australian languages'' (pp. 239-267). This paper deals with
grammaticalization of posture verbs into aspectual markers, which is
accompanied by the appearance of new morphosyntactic patterns.
Frantisek Lichtenberk (''Posture verbs in Oceanic''; pp. 269-314)
gives a large amount of data concerning the functional spread of
postural items observed in different Austronesian and pidgin languages
of Oceania. On the basis of these data, Lichtenberk suggests a
POSTURE > LOCATIVE/EXISTENTIAL > ASPECTUAL
thus generally conforming the results presented in Kuteva 1999.
Turning now to Africa, ''The grammatical evolution of posture verbs in
Kxoe'' by Christa Kilian-Hatz (pp. 315-331) elaborates the topic of
the formation of a highly asymmetrical verbal system in one of the
Khoisan languages. Kilian-Hatz tries to demonstrate that the
unusualness of the verbal paradigm in Kxoe can be explained via
different stages of grammaticalization of posture verbs.
The development of posture items in another African language is
discussed in John M. Keegan's ''Posture verbs in Mbay'' (pp. 333-
358). Posture verbs here form a separate formal class in that they
have a phonological shape of grammatical formatives rather than
lexical items. In addition to their uses in posture, existential and
locative contexts, Mbay posturals have developed into aspectual
auxiliaries and even gave rise to certain deictic adverbs and
demonstratives. The semantics and behavior of posture verbs in this
language is also compared with verbs of putting, taking and falling.
Jae Jung Song (''The posture verbs in Korean: Basic and extended
uses''; pp.359-385) speculates on the differences between Korean
posturals as regards their ''extended uses''. In particular, it is
shown that the Korean verb SE- 'stand' is used in much more contexts
than the verbs meaning 'sit' and 'lie', although its distribution is
still determined by some of its conceptual properties (mainly,
verticality). Another interesting fact about Korean concerns the
different grammaticalization potential of the vulgar and plain verbs
'lie' (of which, only the former has acquired certain aspectual
The collection is crowned with ''Embodied standing and the
psychological semantics of STAND'' by Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. (pp.
387-400). Gibbs discusses the results of a psychological experiment
devoted to the perception of the polysemy of English STAND, returning
the reader to the initial hypothesis about the relations between human
experience of postures and the semantics of posture expressions.
No doubt, this project may look quite unusual - at least for those who
are accustomed to volumes devoted either to some broad domain of
linguistic phenomena or to a concrete phenomenon that nevertheless
plays an important role in grammar. The topic of posturals was not
considered usually to satisfy either of these criteria. Thus, for
example, existential sentences were commonly studied independently of
the original posture semantics of many existential predicates (see,
for example, Verhaar 1967-1972, which can nevertheless be considered a
predecessor of this volume). At the same time, as Newman points out,
the basic lexical meaning of posturals ''might seem at first
unremarkable on account of their apparent simplicity and may appear
unworthy of close study'' (p. 21). Perhaps, an aim of ''The
Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying'' is to challenge this
view by means of showing that posturals may play a considerable role
in different domains of different languages.
Two aspects of the posturals turn out to be in the center of the
research reported in ''The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and
Lying'', these are their distribution among different contexts and the
semantic extensions of posturals. The point discussed by most authors
is that none of these is accidental, rather both are somehow related
to the human experience of postures. The anthropocentric view on the
semantics of posture verbs is not new, of course; it is well
reflected, for example, in Talmy's (1985: 86) understanding of
posturals as lexemes describing ''posture or orientations that are
assumed by the human body or by objects treated as comparable to the
body''. Following this view, it is natural to expect that many
linguistic phenomena concerning posture expressions may be based on
the cognitively relevant properties of postures. Unfortunately, it is
not apparent why some properties of postures (or posture image
schemas) . and not the others - appear to be cognitively relevant(the
more so that this can vary from language to language) and how concrete
contexts ''activate'' concrete properties. It seems to me that until
no answers to these questions are given, the experientialist approach
is able only to provide a kind of explanation but not a theory.
In fact, there is at least one property that appears to be relevant
cross-linguistically. As many papers of the volume show, basic posture
expressions tend to be stative. I allege, however, that this is not
related to the cognitive ''designing'' of posture situations
exclusively. Rather stative predicates are linguistically more basic
in general (this can be proved, for example, by investigating possible
directions of derivation).
The behavior of posture verbs might be expected to vary from language
to language, since ''concrete'' lexical items are often
language-specific. In general, many of the facts presented in this
volume support this expectation. Some authors (e.g., Enfield, Rumsey)
clearly show that certain uses of posture verbs may depend even on
cultural notions. Further, it is perhaps not accidental that a large
part of the volume is devoted to contrastive studies, since it is such
studies that can shed light on what is indeed peculiar about different
Still, given the assumption that the behavior of posturals is not
accidental, it is not surprising that this volume also pretends to
provide some cross-linguistic generalizations, the most striking of
which concern the hierarchy of posturals and their development into
existential verbs, copulas and aspect markers (cf. Devitt 1990; Austin
1998; Kuteva 1999; Maisak 2002). It comes as no surprise, however,
that these generalizations appear to reflect only tendencies, and in
fact a number of languages are described for which these do not work.
Thus, for example, the grammaticalization path
POSTURE > LOCATION > ASPECT
(see Kuteva 1999), which is supported by Lichtenberk's paper but
in fact seems to be already assumed by a number of other authors,
turns out to be somewhat controversial, since developments of
posturals into aspect markers without an intermediate location
stage are observed as well (cf. Song's observations on Korean;
see also Maisak 2002).
Further, take the hierarchy of postures STAND > SIT > LIE, which is
mentioned in several papers of the volume (Newman, Lichtenberk, Song)
and serves as the main topic of the paper by Rice. This hierarchy
manifests itself in a number of phenomena including, for example, the
range of selectional restrictions (Song) or lexicalization potential
(Noonan and Grunow-Harsta). Yet the value of the posture hierarchy
remains unclear. In particular, this hierarchy does not seem to be
based on markedness - unlike most other linguistic hierarchies (Croft
1990). Moreover, as the data presented in the volume show, the
expressions of sitting are often more prominent in their distribution
(e.g., in Dutch as Lemmens observes) and in their contextual
extensions than the expressions of standing and lying. It has been
argued that in some languages the real (semantic) opposition is that
between verbs of sitting and standing, while verbs of sitting do not
fall within a system (cf. Rakhilina 2000: 284-297 for Russian). Such
situations obviously do not fit into the hierarchy of postures.
Most authors are concerned (to some degree) with possible ''semantic
extensions'', where ''semantic extensions'' include the uses of
posturals in ''non-posture'' contexts - either as lexical or
grammatical items. This mixing of the lexical and grammatical data may
somewhat confuse the reader: for grammarians there is too much
discussion of lexical semantics in this volume, while for lexical
semanticians too much grammar is in focus. It should be said, however,
that this mixing is naturally implied from the very idea of a
discussion of such a topic. Further, this volume apparently shows the
absence of precise borderlines between various functions of posturals,
and hence the absence of borderlines between lexical and grammar uses.
In spite of this, many authors try to demarcate between functions of
posture items. For instance, Goddard and Harkins while discussing the
various uses of posture verbs in two Australian languages insist on
that ''each of the verb considered has a number of clearly separable,
albeit inter-related, meanings'' (p. 236). Similarly, in a number of
papers existential and locative uses of the items under discussion are
separated from their ''basic'' posture functions as well as from each
other. In some cases such ''singling out a meaning'' seems to be
related more to the strategy of description, though, and this can
create rather non-economical representations of the semantics of
posturals - where the polysemy is perceived as being almost
independent of the context. In fact, I suppose that much of semantic
variation observed in respect to posturals could be accounted for if
we consider the impact of context. For example, it seems to me that
the distinction between posture, locative and existential uses depends
on the topicality (animacy and definiteness) of an argument in that
the less topical this argument is, the more the nuances of a
postural's meaning are backgrounded (and sometimes even bleached);
cf. Reid's observation that ''the literal usage of these verbs is
essentially restricted to reference to higher animates, particularly
humans, for it is only with these subjects that the capacity to
contrast posture (...) has any real discourse significance'' (p. 245).
To conclude, it seems to me that as for theoretical results, much more
about the semantics and behavior of postures should be said more
explicitly and formulated more precisely. Surely the authors cannot be
blamed for this shortcoming of the volume, which is - importantly - an
almost pioneering study. At the same time, ''The Linguistics of
Sitting, Standing, and Lying'' contains much interesting details that
presumably cannot be found either in grammatical descriptions or in
dictionaries, so it can serve as an important source itself - not only
for those who study posture expressions but also for those who work on
a great number of linguistic phenomena touched upon here, e.g.,
nominal classification, aspect, grammaticalization etc.
Austin, Peter (1998) 'Crow is sitting chasing them' -
Grammaticalisation and the verb 'to sit' in the Mantharta languages,
Western Australia. In A. Siewierska & J.J. Song (eds.), Case, Typology
and Grammar, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Croft, William (1990) Typology and Universals. Cambridge: Cambridge
Devitt, Dan (1990) The diachronic development of semantics in
copulas. In Proceedings of the 16th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley
Linguistics Society, Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistic Society.
Kuteva, Tania A. (1999) On 'sit'/'stand'/'lie' auxiliation.
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Maisak, Timur A. (2002) Tipologija grammatikalizacii konstrukcij s
glagolami dvizhenija i glagolami pozicii. [Grammaticalization paths of
motion and posture verbs.] Ph.D Dissertation, Moscow State University.
Newman, John, ed. (1998) The Linguistics of Giving.
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cognitive analysis of object nouns.] Moscow: Russkie slovari.
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Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Verhaar, John, ed. (1967-1972) The Verb 'Be' and Its Synonyms:
Philosophical and Grammatical studies. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yury Lander is a research fellow in the Institute of Oriental Studies,
Moscow. His current interests include grammatical typology, semantics,
Austronesian, Australian and Slavic linguistics.
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